Gesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy by Robert K. Bolger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My head is about to explode with all that I learned from this book.
This amazing collection of essays on the philosophy of David Foster Wallace provides insights to David’s thinking and writing which I had not seen before, and I’ve read a lot of DFW and DFW analysis. I learned that David was strongly influenced by Schopenhauer, which I had suspected but did not know, and I certainly didn’t know the extent of the influence.
And while it is well-known that David admired Wittgenstein, it is less well-known (or was to me) that David actually misinterpreted Wittgenstein with regard to what language can do. This made me realize that, when God created the universe, the first law he put in place is that “everyone misunderstands some aspect(s) of Wittgenstein,” with the second law being, of course, E=m*c*c.
I also have a much better understanding of how David fit into the “new sincerity” movement and what the real aims of that movement have been.
What amazed and pleased me the most was that every essay was presented in a way that I could actually understand it, and didn’t have to go out and get a philosophy degree to do so. The writing, by every contributor, is really well-done.
I’ll be reading through this one again.
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Until today I had forgotten how very much I have written on the passing of my wife Vickie (her passing occurred almost 13 years ago). But, now that I am thinking of updating my book to a second edition, I am looking back over some past writings and am a little blown away at how much I did write. I am also reminded of some important things that I had put into some of my infrequently accessed neurons, and thought I would share a couple of these with you.
One of these is something I wrote about why bad things happen to good people. Specifically, back in 2005, some of what I wrote contained the following:
The CNN site recently had an article about a theory that the 700,000 ton Taipei building is contributing to increased earthquake frequency in that region of the world. (Imagine 700,000 Tons!) When you consider this and consider that we also displace a lot of earth in building other skyscrapers and roads, and when you also consider how we are contributing to global warming, you can see that we, humanity in general, should probably be taking the blame for a lot of “natural disasters.”
It is so easy for a cynic and skeptic like me to look at an event like the 2004 tsunami and view it as “proof” that there is no loving god. In so doing, I overlook how very much we ourselves contribute to the making of such disasters. Are we so shortsighted that we think we can move 700,000 tons around and concentrate it in one spot and that it will not have an impact on the tectonic plates?
That quote comes from this little piece, which I wrote in 2005.
You may also be interested in this article I wrote in 2003 entitled, The New Age Paradigm. The article appears at Rich Deem’s Evidence For God site, which has tons of fascinating articles. I’m certainly not in agreement with all of his articles, but they all do provide good food for thought.
Anyway, sometimes it can be instructive to revisit the past.
If you ask many bloggers and even many writers of novels why they write, you will hear them respond that it is to persuade. That doesn’t sum it up for everyone of course, but it is a sensible reason for most writing.
Pater Edmund recently reminded me, though, that writing is especially useful for helping us clarify our own thinking:
But when I think about why I began this blog it seems to me that my main purpose was not so much to teach, sway, or delight my readers, but rather to clarify my own thoughts.
In a sense, it is still a matter of persuasion, in that one wants to persuade oneself to think a certain way, a way that is not yet known to the self.
That sums up a lot of why I write. I’ve found that I haven’t been doing enough of it for the past several months. Not that I have to blog everything I want to clarify my thinking on, but I haven’t even been using my little notebooks. I plan to restart being more regular about this.
When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination.
Annie Dillard, The Holy Firm
I’ve spent years studying religious beliefs and theology, especially Christian theology, and thanks to my OCD, I’ll probably continue spinning my wheels in this area until I croak. Maybe it’s a calling of sorts, as Christian Wiman said in My Bright Abyss: “Sometimes God calls a person to unbelief so that faith may take new forms.”
Regardless, at this point, I have two conclusions:
1. I don’t know why we try to turn gods into men and men into gods.
2. Parroting Annie Dillard: I don’t know beans about God.
There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us, whether as explanations for a life that never quite finds its true force or direction, or as fuel for ambition, or as a kind of reflexive secular religion that, paradoxically, unites us with others in a shared sense of complete isolation: you feel at home in the world only by never feeling at home in the world.
Wiman, Christian (2013-04-02). My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (pp. 7-8). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.
“One of the commonest and most generally accepted delusions is that every man can be qualified in some particular way — said to be kind, wicked, stupid, energetic, apathetic, and so on. People are not like that. We may say of a man that he is more often kind than cruel, more often wise than stupid, more often energetic than apathetic or vice versa; but it could never be true to say of one man that he is kind or wise, and of another that he is wicked or stupid. Yet we are always classifying mankind in this way. And it is wrong. Human beings are like rivers; the water is one and the same in all of them but every river is narrow in some places, flows swifter in others; here it is broad, there still, or clear, or cold, or muddy or warm. It is the same with men. Every man bears within him the germs of every human quality, and now manifests one, now another, and frequently is quite unlike himself, while still remaining the same man.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection
Doctor Johnson’s Prayers by Samuel Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote to his friend Norman Malcolm that Samuel Johnson’s Prayers And Meditations was one of his favorite books. He noted that he appreciated the honesty of the prayers and had adopted some of them for his own. I find myself with the same appreciation, having been not only moved by the prose but also feeling a kinship with Johnson’s humanness, his continuation over a period of years to fighting the same temptations and habits, his undying love and prayers for his late wife, his guilt at unmet duty and unfulfilled destiny. An humbling book and you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate it, just human.
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My ebook about the love of my life, and my grief following her death, is now available from Kindle Direct Publishing:
I Know You’re Dead, But I Still Worry About You: A Love Story
I’ve poured a lot of emotional energy into writing this over the past several months, especially the last few. I hope it is helpful for anyone who is grieving or who has a friend who is grieving.
All my best,
None of us can really imagine what it would be like to be one of the parents of a child murdered at Sandy Hook. But, having lost someone who meant the world to me, I am familiar with at least some of the kinds of thoughts that could torment the parents:
What if he died calling out my name, wondering where I was when he needed me? What if the last thing stored in his brain was the thought that I had failed him? Oh my God. Six years old! He was just 6 years old! He was so INNOCENT! Why oh why oh why?
What if murdered children are trapped between here and heaven? What do I have to do to help him get all the way to heaven? I’ll do ANYTHING, God. Just tell me what to do!
What if there is no heaven? What if he just no longer exists? I mustn’t let his mother know I think this. She would come apart if she couldn’t believe he is in heaven.
Six years old! He was so looking forward to Christmas. Now he will have no more Christmas’. He never even got to have a girlfriend. Goddamn, what a screwed up world.
He was so innocent. A precious child. Why couldn’t it have been me? How do I avenge his death? What did I do wrong, God? Why did you have to take my child? How can you expect me to love you now? If I did something that was so wrong, why not just kill me?
The mortician said that at least he did not suffer, but what if he is lying to keep me from knowing that my baby boy was in great pain the last 10 minutes of his life? What if that’s just what doctors and morticians are trained to say?
Can he see me and his mom crying? Does he know what has happened to him?
Maybe it’s all just a really bad dream. Or maybe I’m the one who is really dead. That sort of makes sense, that I died and am living in my own private hell, the worst hell my mind could have created.
But it feels more horrible than that. It feels worse than hell would feel. So he must really be dead, even though it makes no sense at all.
Don’t talk to me about your fear of losing your right to own a bazooka, or how we should lock up everyone who might be a nutcase. You just don’t fucking get it.