Abstract Biography is usually distinguished from history and, in comparison, looked down upon. R. G. Collingwood's view of biography seems to fit this statement considering that he says it has only gossip-value and that “history it can never be“. His main concern is that biography exploits and arouses emotions which he excludes from the domain of history. In the paper I will try to show that one can salvage a more positive view of biography from within (...) Collingwood's work and claim that his explicit attacks against biography target specifically the sensationalist kind. First, I will show that Collingwood, in his later writings, allowed that, not only thought, but also relevant emotions can be the subject matter of history, which means that even if one takes biography to deal with emotions, it can still qualify as history. Second, I will argue, based mainly on Collingwood's Principles of Art , that biography can be compared to portrait painting, in which case, it can be redeemed as a work of art and not just craft and, thus, have more than entertainment value. It can also be part of history, and more specifically part of the history of art which Collingwood endorses, if one takes the life of an individual, recounted by a biographer, to be an artistic creation, as Collingwood seems to suggest. (shrink)
This book constitutes the first volume of a projected two-volume intellectual biography of Auguste Comte, the founder of modern sociology and a philosophical movement called positivism. Volume One offers a reinterpretation of Comte's "first career," (1798-1842) when he completed the scientific foundation of his philosophy. It describes the interplay between Comte's ideas and the historical context of postrevolutionary France, his struggles with poverty and mental illness, and his volatile relationships with friends, family, and colleagues, including such famous contemporaries as (...) Saint-Simon, the Saint-Simonians, Guizot, and John Stuart Mill. Pickering shows that the man who called for a new social philosophy based on the sciences was not only ill at ease in the most basic human relationships, but also profoundly questioned the ability of the purely scientific spirit to regenerate the political and social world. (shrink)
Interviewing offers the biographer unique opportunities for gathering data. I offer three examples. The emphatic bacterial geneticist Norton Zinder confronted me with an interpretation of Barbara McClintock's science that was as surprising as it proved to be robust. The relaxed setting of the human geneticist Walter Nance's rural summer home contributed to an unusually improvisational oral history that produced insights into his experimental and thinking style. And "embedding" myself with the biochemical geneticist Charles Scriver in his home, workplace, and city (...) enabled me to experience the social networks that drive the practical events of his career, which in turn helped me explain the theoretical basis of his science. Face-to-face interaction and multisensory experience will shape each biographer's experience uniquely. Recent developments in sensory physiology suggest that the experience of integrating sense data encourages different patterns of observation and reflection. It is reasonable, then, to think that biography based on face-to-face interviews will, for a given author, have a different character than one based entirely on documents. I reflect on how interviewing shapes my own writing and I encourage the reader to do the same. (shrink)
continent. 2.2 (2012): 66–75 ~*~ We’re Doomed. Pessimism is the night-side of thought, a melodrama of the futility of the brain, a poetry written in the graveyard of philosophy. Pessimism is a lyrical failure of philosophical thinking, each attempt at clear and coherent thought, sullen and submerged in the hidden joy of its own futility. The closest pessimism comes to philosophical argument is the droll and laconic “We’ll never make it,” or simply: “We’re doomed.” Every effort doomed to failure, every (...) project doomed to incompletion, every life doomed to be unlived, every thought doomed to be unthought. Pessimism is the lowest form of philosophy, frequently disparaged and dismissed, merely the symptom of a bad attitude. No one ever needs pessimism, in the way that one needs optimism to inspire one to great heights and to pick oneself up, in the way one needs constructive criticism, advice and feedback, inspirational books or a pat on the back. No one needs pessimism, though I like to imagine the idea of a pessimist activism. No one needs pessimism, and yet everyone—without exception—has, at some point in their lives, had to confront pessimism, if not as a philosophy then as a grievance—against one’s self or others, against one’s surroundings or one’s life, against the state of things or the world in general. There is little redemption for pessimism, and no consolation prize. Ultimately, pessimism is weary of everything and of itself. Pessimism is the philosophical form of disenchantment—disenchantment as chanting, a chant, a mantra, a solitary, monophonic voice rendered insignificant by the intimate immensity surrounding it. In pessimism, the first axiom is a long, low, funereal sigh. ~*~ We’re Still Doomed. No one has time for pessimism. After all, there are only so many hours in a day. Whatever our temperament, happy or sad, engaged or disengaged, we know pessimism when we hear it. The pessimist is usually understood as the complainer, forever pointing out what is wrong with the world without ever once offering a solution. But more often than not pessimists are the quietest of philosophers, submerging their own sighs within the lethargy of discontent. What little sound it makes is of interest to no one—“I’ve heard it all before,” “tell me something I don’t know,” sound and fury, signifying nothing. In raising problems without solutions, in posing questions without answers, in retreating to the hermetic, cavernous abode of complaint, pessimism is guilty of that most inexcusable of Occidental crimes—the crime of not pretending it’s for real. Pessimism fails to live up to the most basic tenet of philosophy—the “as if.” Think as if it will be helpful, act as if it will make a difference, speak as if there is something to say, live as if you are not, in fact, being lived by some murmuring non-entity both shadowy and muddied. Had it more self-assurance and better social skills, pessimism would turn its disenchantment into a religion, possibly calling itself The Great Refusal. But there is a negation in pessimism that refuses even such a Refusal, an awareness that, from the start, it has already failed, and that the culmination of all that is, is that all is for naught. Pessimism tries very hard to present itself in the low, sustained tones of a Requiem Mass, or the tectonic rumbling of Tibetan chant. But it frequently lets loose dissonant notes at once plaintive and pathetic. Often, its voice cracks, its weighty words abruptly reduced to mere shards of guttural sound. ~*~ Maybe It’s Not So Bad, After All. If we know pessimism when we hear it, this is because we’ve heard it all before—and we didn’t need to hear it in the first place. Life is hard enough. What you need is a change of attitude, a new outlook, a shift in perspective... a cup of coffee. If we have no ears for pessimism, this is because it is always reducible to something as reliably mutable as a voice. If pessimism is so frequently disparaged, it is because it brings everyone down, determined as it is to view each day as a bad day, if only by virtue of the fact that it is not yet a bad day. For pessimism the world is brimming with negative possibility, the collision of a bad mood with an impassive world. In fact, pessimism is the result of a confusion between the world and a statement about the world, a confusion that also prevents it from fully entering the hallowed halls of philosophy. If pessimism is so often dismissed, this is because it is often impossible to separate a “bad mood” from a philosophical proposition (and do not all philosophies stem from a bad mood?) The very term “pessimism” suggests a school of thought, a movement, even a community. But pessimism always has a membership of one—maybe two. Ideally, of course, it would have a membership of none, with only a scribbled, illegible note left behind by someone long forgotten. But this seems unrealistic, though one can always hope. ~*~ Anatomy of Pessimism. Though it may locate itself at the margins of philosophy, pessimism is as much subject to philosophical analysis as any other form of thought. Pessimism’s lyricism of failure gives it the structure of music. What time is to the music of sorrow, reason is to a philosophy of the worst. Pessimism’s two major keys are moral and metaphysical pessimism, its subjective and objective poles, an attitude towards the world and a claim about the world. For moral pessimism, it is better not to have been born at all; for metaphysical pessimism, this is the worst of all possible worlds. For moral pessimism the problem is the solipsism of human beings, the world made in our own image, a world-for-us. For metaphysical pessimism, the problem is the solipsism of the world, objected and projected as a world-in-itself. Both moral and metaphysical pessimism are compromised philosophically; moral pessimism by its failure to locate the human within a larger context, and metaphysical pessimism by its failure to recognize the complicity in the very claim of realism. This is how pessimism makes its music of the worst, a generalized misanthropy without the anthropos . Pessimism crystallizes around this futility—it is its amor fati , rendered as musical form. ~*~ Melancholy of Anatomy. There is a logic of pessimism that is fundamental to its suspicion of philosophical system. Pessimism involves a statement about a condition . In pessimism each statement boils down to an affirmation or a negation, just as any condition boils down to the best or the worst. With Schopenhauer, that arch-pessimist, the thinker for whom the philosopher and the curmudgeon perfectly overlap, we see a no-saying to the worst, a no-saying that secretly covets a yes-saying (through asceticism, mysticism, quietism), even if this hidden yes-saying is a horizon at the limits of comprehension. With Nietzsche comes the pronouncement of a Dionysian pessimism, a pessimism of strength or joy, a yes-saying to the worst, a yes-saying to this world as it is. And with Cioran yet another variation, futile yet lyrical, a no-saying to the worst, and a further no-saying to the possibility of any other world, in here or out there. With Cioran one approaches, but never reaches, an absolute no-saying, a studied abandonment of pessimism itself. The logic of pessimism moves through three refusals: a no-saying to the worst (refusal of the world-for-us, or Schopenhauer’s tears); a yes-saying to the worst (refusal of the world-in-itself, or Nietzsche’s laughter); and a no-saying to the for-us and the in-itself (a double refusal, or Cioran’s sleep). Crying, laughing, sleeping—what other responses are adequate to a life that is so indifferent? ~*~ Cosmic Pessimism. Both moral and metaphysical pessimism point to another kind, a pessimism that is neither subjective nor objective, neither for-us nor in-itself, and instead a pessimism of the world-without-us. We could call this a cosmic pessimism ... but this sounds too majestic, too full of wonder, too much the bitter aftertaste of the Great Beyond. Words falter. And so do ideas. And so we have a cosmic pessimism, a pessimism that is first and last a pessimism about cosmos , about the necessity and possibility of order. The contours of cosmic pessimism are a drastic scaling-up or scaling-down of the human point of view, the unhuman orientation of deep space and deep time, and all of this shadowed by an impasse, a primordial insignificance, the impossibility of ever adequately accounting for one’s relationship to thought—all that remains of pessimism is the desiderata of affects—agonistic, impassive, defiant, reclusive, filled with sorrow and flailing at that architectonic chess match called philosophy, a flailing that pessimism tries to raise to the level of an art form (though what usually results is slapstick). ~*~ Song of Futility. An ethics of futility pervades pessimism. Futility, however, is different from fatality, and different again from simple failure (though failure is never simple). Failure is a breakage within the heart of relations, a fissure between cause and effect, a fissure hastily covered over by trying and trying again. With failure, there is always plenty of blame to go around; it’s not my fault, it’s a technical difficulty, it’s a miscommunication. For the pessimist, failure is a question of “when,” not “if”—failure as a metaphysical principle. Everything withers and passes into an obscurity blacker than night, everything from the melodramatic decline of a person’s life to the banal flickering moments that constitute each day. Everything that is done undone, everything said or known destined for a kind of stellar oblivion. When scaled up in this way, failure becomes fatality. Fatality is the hermeticism of cause and effect. In fatality, everything you do, whatever you do, always leads to a certain end, and ultimately to the end—though that end, or the means to that end, remain shrouded in obscurity. Nothing you do makes a difference because everything you do makes a difference. Hence the effects of your actions are hidden from you, even as you deceive yourself into thinking that, at last, this time you will outwit the order of things. By having a goal, planning ahead, and thinking things through carefully, we attempt, in a daily Prometheanism, to turn fatality to our advantage, to gain a glimpse of an order that seems buried deeper and deeper in the fabric of the universe. But even fatality has its comforts. The chain of cause and effect may be hidden from us, but that’s just because disorder is the order we don’t yet see; it’s just complex, distributed, and requires advanced mathematics. Fatality still clings to the sufficiency of everything that exists... When fatality relinquishes even this idea, it becomes futility. Futility arises out of the grim suspicion that, behind the shroud of causality we drape over the world, there is only the indifference of what exists or doesn’t exist; whatever you do ultimately leads to no end, an irrevocable chasm between thought and world. Futility transforms the act of thinking into a zero-sum game. ~*~ Song of the Worst. At the center of pessimism lies the term pessimus , “the worst,” a term as relative as it is absolute. The worst is about as bad as it gets, “the worst” as “the best” in disguise, shrouded by the passage of time or the twists and turns of fortune. For the pessimist, “the worst” is the propensity for suffering that gradually occludes each living moment, until it eclipses it entirely, overlapping perfectly in death... which, for the pessimist, is no longer “the worst.” Pessimism is marked by an unwillingness to move beyond “the worst,” something only partially attributable to a lack in motivation. In pessimism “the worst” is the ground that gives way beneath every existent—things could be worse, and , things could be better. “The worst” invariably implies a value judgment, one made based on scant evidence and little experience; in this way, pessimism’s greatest nemesis is its moral orientation. Pessimism’s propositions have all the gravitas of a bad joke. Perhaps this is why the true optimists are the most severe pessimists—they are optimists that have run out of options. They are almost ecstatically inundated by the worst. Such an optimism is the only possible outcome of a prolonged period of suffering, physical or metaphysical, intellectual or spiritual. But does this not also describe all the trials and tribulations of each day—in short, of “life?” It seems that sooner or later we are all doomed to become optimists of this sort (the most depressing of thoughts...) ~*~ Song of Doom. Rather than serving as a cause for despair, gloom and doom are the forms of consolation for any pessimist philosophy. Neither quite affects nor quite concepts, gloom and doom transform pessimism into a mortification of philosophy. Doom is not just the sense that all things will turn out badly, but that all things inevitably come to an end, irrespective of whether or not they really do come to an end. What emerges from doom is a sense of the unhuman as an attractor, a horizon towards which the human is fatally drawn. Doom is humanity given over to unhumanity in an act of crystalline self-abnegation. Gloom is not simply the anxiety that precedes doom. Gloom is literally atmospheric, climate as much as impression, and if people are also gloomy, this is simply the by-product of an anodyne atmosphere that only incidentally involves human beings. Gloom is more climatological than psychological, the stuff of dim, hazy, overcast skies, of ruins and overgrown tombs, of a misty, lethargic fog that moves with the same languorousness as our own crouched and sullen listening to a disinterested world. In a sense, gloom is the counterpoint to doom—what futility is to the former, fatality is to the latter. Doom is marked by temporality—all things precariously drawn to their end—whereas gloom is the austerity of stillness, all things sad, static, and suspended, a meandering smoke hovering over cold lichen stones and damp fir trees. If doom is the terror of temporality and death, then gloom is the horror of a hovering stasis that is life. At times I like to imagine that this realization alone is the thread that connects the charnel ground Aghori and the graveyard poets. ~*~ Song of Spite. There is an intolerance in pessimism that knows no bounds. In pessimism spite begins by fixing on a particular object of spite—someone one hardly knows, or someone one knows too well; a spite for this person or a spite for all of humanity; a spectacular or a banal spite; a spite for a noisy neighbor, a yapping dog, a battalion of strollers, the meandering idiot walking in front of you on their smart phone, large loud celebrations, traumatic injustices anywhere in the world regurgitated as media blitz, spite for the self-absorbed and overly performative people talking way too loud at the table next to you, technical difficulties and troubleshooting, the reduction of everything to branding, spite of the refusal to admit one’s own errors, of self-help books, of people who know absolutely everything and make sure to tell you, of all people, all living beings, all things, the world, the spiteful planet, the inanity of existence... Spite is the motor of pessimism because it is so egalitarian, so expansive, it runs amok, stumbling across intuitions that can only half-heartedly be called philosophical. Spite lacks the confidence and the clarity of hatred, but it also lacks the almost cordial judgment of dislike. For the pessimist, the smallest detail can be an indication of a metaphysical futility so vast and funereal that it eclipses pessimism itself—a spite that pessimism carefully places beyond the horizon of intelligibility, like the experience of dusk, or like the phrase, “it is raining jewels and daggers.” ~*~ Song of Sleep. A paraphrase of Schopenhauer: what death is for the organism, sleep is for the individual. Pessimists sleep not because they are depressed, but because for them sleep is a form of ascetic practice. Sleep is the askesis of pessimism. If, while sleeping, we have a bad dream, we abruptly wake up, and suddenly the horrors of the night vanish. There is no reason to think that the same does not happen with the bad dream we call “life.” ~*~ Song of Sorrow. Nietzsche, commenting on pessimism, once castigated Schopenhauer for taking things too lightly. He writes: ...Schopenhauer, though a pessimist, really —played the flute. Every day, after dinner: one should read his biography on that. And incidentally: a pessimist, one who denies God and the world but comes to a stop before morality—who affirms morality and plays the flute... what? Is that really—a pessimist? We know that Schopenhauer did possess a collection of instruments, and we also know that Nietzsche himself composed music. There is no reason to think that either of them would ever banish music from the Republic of philosophy. But Nietzsche’s jibes at Schopenhauer are as much about music as they are about pessimism. For the pessimist who says no to everything and yet finds comfort in music, the no-saying of pessimism can only be a weak way of saying yes—the weightiest statement undercut by the flightiest of replies. The least that Schopenhauer could’ve done is to play the bass. I’m not a big fan of the flute, or, for that matter, wind instruments generally. But what Nietzsche forgets is the role that the flute has historically played in Greek tragedy. In tragedy, the flute ( aulos ) is not an instrument of levity and joy, but of solitude and sorrow. The Greek aulos not only expresses the grief of tragic loss, but it does so in a way that renders weeping and singing inseparable from each other. The classicist Nicole Loraux calls this the mourning voice . Set apart from the more official civic rituals of funerary mourning, the mourning voice of Greek tragedy constantly threatens to dissolve song into wailing, music into moaning, and the voice into a primordial, disarticulate anti-music. The mourning voice delineates all the forms of suffering—tears, weeping, sobbing, wailing, moaning, and the convulsions of thought reduced to an elemental unintelligibility. In the collapsed space between the voice that speaks and the voice that sings, pessimism discovers its mourning voice. Pessimism: the failure of sound and sense, the disarticulation of phone and logos . Have we rescued Schopenhauer from Nietzsche? Probably not. Perhaps Schopenhauer played the flute to remind himself of the real function of the mourning voice—sorrow, sighs, and moaning rendered indistinguishable from music, the crumbling of the human into the unhuman. Failure par excellence of pessimism. ~*~ Song of Nothing. In Buddhist thought, the First Noble Truth of existence is encapsulated in the Pali term dukkha , conventionally translated as “suffering,” “sorrow,” or “misery.” The Buddhist teachings are clear, however, that this is an objective claim, and not simply one point of view among others. Existence is suffering and sorrow—and yet this is not, the teachings tell us, a pessimistic attitude. It is likely that Schopenhauer, reading the Buddhist texts available to him, recognized some filiation with the concept of dukkha . But dukkha is a multi-faceted term. There is, certainly, dukkha in the usual sense of the suffering, strife, and loss associated with living a life. But this is, in turn, dependent on the finitude and temporality of dukkha , existence as determined by impermanence and imperfection. And this ultimately points to the way in which both suffering and finitude are grounded by the paradoxical groundlessness of dukkha as a metaphysical principle—the insubstantiality and the emptiness of all that is. Beyond what is worse to me, beyond a world ordered for the worst, there is the emptiness of dukkha as an impersonal suffering... the tears of the cosmos. In this context, it is easy to see how Schopenhauer’s pessimism attempts to compress all the aspects of dukkha into a nothingness at the core of existence, a Willlessness coursing through the Will. Though one thing for certain is that with Schopenhauer we do not find the “ever-smiling” countenance of Buddhism—or do we? The texts of the Pali Canon also contain lists of the different types of happiness—including the happiness of renunciation and the strange happiness of detachment. But Buddhism considers even the different types of happiness as part of dukkha , in this final sense of nothingness or emptiness. Perhaps Schopenhauer understood Buddhism better than he is usually given credit for. Thus the experiment of Schopenhauer’s philosophy—the point at which a Western pessimus and an Eastern dukkha overlap or exchange glances. Empty sorrow, a lyricism of indifference. The result is a strange, and ultimately untenable, nocturnal form of Buddhism. ~*~ Cioran once called music a “physics of tears.” If this is true, then perhaps metaphysics is its commentary. Or its apology. ~*~ Pessimism would be more mystical were it not for its defeatism. Mysticism is much too proactive for the pessimist, and pessimism too impassive even for the mystic. At the same time, there is something enviable about mysticism—despite its sufferings. There is a sense in which pessimists are really failed mystics. ~*~ You, the Night, and the Music. In a suggestive passage, Schopenhauer once noted that, “music is the melody to which the world is the text." Given Schopenhauer’s view on life—that life is suffering, that human life is absurd, that the nothingness before my birth is equal to the nothingness after my death—given all this, one wonders what kind of music Schopenhauer had in mind when he described music as the melody to which the world is text—was it opera, a Requiem Mass, a madrigal, or perhaps a drinking song? Or something like Eine kleine Nachtmusik , a little night music for the twilight of thought, a sullen nocturne for the night-side of logic, an era of sad wings sung by a solitary banshee. Perhaps the music Schopenhauer had in mind is music eliminated to non-music. A whisper would suffice. Perhaps a sigh of fatigue or resignation, perhaps a moan of despair or sorrow. Perhaps a sound just articulate enough that it could be heard to dissipate. ~*~ Teach me to laugh through tears. ~*~ Pessimism always falls short of being philosophical. My back aches, my knees hurt, I couldn’t sleep last night, I’m stressed-out, and I think I’m finally coming down with something. Pessimism abjures all pretenses towards system—towards the purity of analysis and the dignity of critique. We didn’t really think we could figure it out, did we? It was just passing time, taking a piss, something to do, a bold gesture put forth in all its fragility, according to rules that we have agreed to forget that we made up in the first place. Every thought marked by a shadowy incomprehension that precedes it, and a futility that undermines it. That pessimism speaks, in whatever voice, is the singing testimony to this futility and this incomprehension—take a chance and step outside, lose some sleep and say you tried... ~*~ Is there a music of pessimism? And would such a music be audible? ~*~ The impact of music on a person compels them to put their experience into words. When this fails, the result is a faltering of thought and language that is itself a kind of music. Cioran writes: “Music is everything. God himself is nothing more than an acoustic hallucination.” ~*~ If a thinker like Schopenhauer has any redeeming qualities, it is that he identified the great lie of Western culture—the preference for existence over non-existence. As he notes: “If we knocked on the graves and asked the dead whether they would like to rise again, they would shake their heads.” In Western cultures it is commonly accepted that one celebrates birth and mourns death. But there must be a mistake here. Wouldn’t it make more sense to mourn birth and celebrate death? Strange though, because the mourning of birth would, presumably, last the entirety of that person’s life, so that mourning and living would the be same thing. ~*~ To the musical idea of the harmony of the universe corresponds the philosophical principle of sufficient reason. Like the music of mourning, pessimism gives voice to the inevitable breakdown of word and song. In this way, music is the overtone of thought. ~*~ The Patron Saints of Pessimism. The patron saints of pessimism watch over suffering. Laconic and sullen, the patron saints of pessimism never seem to do a good job at protecting, interceding, or advocating for those who suffer. Perhaps they need us more than we need them. Lest we forget, there do exist patron saints of philosophy, but their stories are not happy ones. There is, for instance, the fourth century Saint Catherine of Alexandria, or Catherine of the Wheel, named after the torture device used on her. A precocious fourteen year old scholar, Catherine was subject to continual persecution. After all forms of torture failed—including the “breaking wheel”—the emperor finally settled for her decapitation, a violent yet appropriate reminder of the protector of philosophers. There are also patron saints of music and musicians, but theirs too are sad stories. In the second century, Saint Cecilia was also subject to persecution and torture. As she knelt to receive the blade that would separate her head from her body, she ardently sang a song to God. It took three attempts before she was fully decapitated, all the while she continued, perhaps miraculously, to sing. Does pessimism not deserve its own patron saints, even if they are unworthy of martyrdom? But in our search, even the most ardent nay-sayers frequently lapse into brief moments of enthusiasm—Pascal’s love of solitude, Leopardi’s love of poetry, Schopenhauer’s love of music, Nietzsche’s love of Schopenhauer, and so on. Should one then focus on individual works of pessimism? We could include Kierkegaard’s trilogy of horror— Sickness Unto Death , The Concept of Dread , and Fear and Trembling —but all these are undermined by their fabricated and unreliable authors. Besides, how can one separate the pessimist from the optimist in works like Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life , Shestov’s Postetas Clavium , or Edgar Saltus’ under-read The Philosophy of Disenchantment ? Even in cases where the entire corpus of an author is pessimistic, the project always seems incomplete—witness Cioran’s trajectory, from his first book, On the Heights of Despair , to the last unpublished notebooks of acrid and taut aphorisms. And this is to say nothing of literary pessimism, from Goethe’s sorrowful Werther, to Dostoevsky’s underground man, to Pessoa’s disquiet scribbler; Baudelaire’s spleen and ennui, the mystical Satanism of Huysmans and Strindberg, the hauntologies of Mário de Sá-Carniero, Izumi Kyoka, H.P. Lovecraft, grumpy old Beckett... even the great pessimist comedians. All that remains are singular, perhaps anomalous statements of pessimism, a litany of quotes and citations crammed into fortune cookies. Patron saints are traditionally named after a locale, either a place of birth or of a mystical experience. Perhaps the better approach is to focus on the places where pessimists were forced to live out their pessimism—Schopenhauer facing an empty Berlin lecture hall, Nietzsche mute and convalescent at the home of his sister, Wittgenstein the relinquished professor and solitary gardener, Cioran grappling with Alzheimer’s in his tiny writing alcove in the Latin Quarter. ~*~ There’s a ghost that grows inside of me, damaged in the making, and there’s a hunt sprung from necessity, elliptical and drowned. Where the moving quiet of our insomnia offers up each thought, there’s a luminous field of grey inertia, and obsidian dreams burnt all the way down. ~*~ If pessimism has any pedagogical value, it is that the failure of pessimism as a philosophy is inextricably tied to the failure of pessimism as voice. I read the following, from Shestov’s The Apotheosis of Groundlessness : When a person is young he writes because it seems to him he has discovered a new almighty truth which he must make haste to impart to forlorn humankind. Later, becoming more modest, he begins to doubt his truths: and then he tries to convince himself. A few more years go by, and he knows he was mistaken all round, so there is no need to convince himself. Nevertheless he continues to write, because he is not fit for any other work, and to be accounted a superfluous person is so horrible. (shrink)
The life of George Price (1922-1975), the eccentric polymath genius and father of the Price equation, is used as a prism and counterpoint through which to consider an age-old evolutionary conundrum: the origins of altruism. This biographical project, and biography and history more generally, are considered in terms of the possibility of using form to convey content in particular ways. Closer to an art form than a science, this approach to scholarship presents both a unique challenge and promise.
In this paper the authors seek to contribute to a new ontology of an embodied, desiring subject through an exploration of their own subjectivities and of the ways in which subjectivities are produced and transformed through affective attachments to place. Using the method of collective biography and drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of desire and territorialization they examine their affective responses and attachments to place: Australia and the Czech Republic. As a point of departure for their analysis, the (...) authors ask: What does it mean to be homesick for a place which is not one’s home? What does it mean to desire a place? What of the other place is inscribed in the body? In asking this, the authors show the extent to which place is a zone of immanence in which a continual play of de- and re-territorialization occurs. (shrink)
Much writing on scientific biography focuses on the legitimacy and utility of this genre. In contrast, this essay discusses a variety of genre conventions and imperatives which continue to exert a powerful influence on the selection of biographical subjects, and to control the plot and structure of the ensuing biographies. These imperatives include the following: the plot templates of the Bildungsroman (the realistic novel of individual self-development), the life trajectories of Weberian ideal types, and the functional elements and personae (...) of the folkloric tale of the "hero's quest." The essay discusses the nature and application of these genre conventions in some detail, with the conclusion that biography, however useful, exerts a powerfully distorting influence on the image of how most science gets done. (shrink)
_ Source: _Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 40 - 61 In this review article of Henk Nellen, _Hugo Grotius. A lifelong struggle for Peace in Church and State, 1583–1645_ the story of Grotius’s life is outlined and issues of interpretation are discussed. It is argued that this biography supports the argument that Grotius towards the end of his life was close to becoming a Catholic. It seems plausible that Grotius’s principled refusal to request permission to return to the Republic (...) may have been connected to his disappointment about his own less principled behaviour in 1618. (shrink)
Abstract Is `History Man', Fred Inglis' biography on R.G. Collingwood a successful biography? Inglis' explicit ambition is to portray the concrete figure Collingwood by abducting him from what he calls the vacuum-packed academic world of scholars. But the best biographers look for a balanced equilibrium between rendering philosophical ideas and dramatizing a philosopher's life. Put another way, they evoke the interweaving of a philosopher's thought with the vicissitudes of his life. Despite the unmistakable qualities of this biography, (...) Fred Inglis did not fully succeed in finding that very balance, mainly due to a lack of philosophical background. While Oxford University Press with the new edition of his works and manuscripts is thoroughly reorienting the traditional view of Collingwood, Inglis' fluently written but rather biased portrayal does no full justice to the heart of his fascinating philosophy and personality. (shrink)
A condição cultural contemporânea desafia a vivência religiosa. Vivemos um momento de nova demanda: busca-se hoje, uma relação com o dogma e uma vivência religiosa mais livres. Corre-se o risco, todavia, que esse desejo, que é de fato um dos grandes valores de nossa cultura, acabe se satisfazendo com propostas espirituais superficiais. A partir dessa preocupação, e entendendo que a mística, enquanto processo vivido pelo sujeito rumo ao encontro com o Mistério Santo, tem contribuições importantes para essa problemática, procuraremos empreender (...) uma reflexão sobre a relação entre mística e teologia, o desencontro moderno e os sinais de reencontro que já se pode visualizar na atualidade. Refletiremos sobre a marginalização e mística, ocorrida na modernidade, as suspeitas que pairaram sobre os místicos, a divisão entre espiritualidade e teologia que adveio do triunfo do racionalismo e finalmente sobre o novo interesse pela mística que vai se esboçando na teologia contemporânea a partir da afirmação de uma nova concepção de revelação no contexto de renovação conciliar. Palavras-chaves : Mística. Espiritualidade. Teologia.Our contemporary cultural condition challenges our religion experience. As a result, we live in a moment of a new spiritual demand: people are seeking a relationship with the dogma and at the same time a less strict religious experience. However, we are taking a risk with this new spiritual desire, which is in fact one of the strongest values in our culture; this might lead to religious satisfaction via superficial spiritual propositions. This concern, along with the mysticism involved in the process of one’s path towards the acceptance of the holy mysticism, has indeed contributed to this issue. We shall reflect upon the relationship between mysticism and theology and its modern mismatch, as well as on the signs of reunion that we can already visualize nowadays. We shall reflect about the marginalization of mysticism which occurred in modern times, and on the suspicious attitudes that float over the so-called mystics. Furthermore, the separation between spirituality and theology that arose from the triumph of the rationalism; and finally about the new interest concerning mysticism , which emerged in contemporary theology from the declaration of a new revelation concept, in the context of Vatican II renewal. Keywords : Mystique. Spirituality. Theology. New Roc�;o�NN;mso-fareast-language:PT-BR'>Keywords : D. Luciano Mendes de Almeida. Biography. Internalization. Testimony. (shrink)
This paper explores the special problems encountered by the biographer of a living scientific subject. In particular, it explores the complex of problems that emerges from the intense interpersonal dynamic involving issues of distance, privacy and trust. It also explores methodological problems having to do with oral history interviews and other supporting documentation. It draws on the personal experience of the author and the biographical subject of G. Ledyard Stebbins Jr., the botanist, geneticist and evolutionist. It also offers prescriptives and (...) recommendations for future research. (shrink)
Richard Goldschmidt was one of the most controversial biologists of the mid-twentieth century. Rather than fade from view, Goldschmidt's work and reputation has persisted in the biological community long after he has. Goldschmidt's longevity is due in large part to how he was represented by Stephen J. Gould. When viewed from the perspective of the biographer, Gould's revival of Goldschmidt as an evolutionary heretic in the 1970s and 1980s represents a selective reinvention of Goldschmidt that provides a contrast to other (...) kinds of biographical commemorations by scientists. (shrink)
This is the first full-length biography in more than fifty years of Immanuel Kant, one of the giants amongst the pantheon of Western philosophers as well as the one with the most powerful and broad influence on contemporary philosophy. It is well known that Kant spent his entire life in an isolated part of Prussia living the life of a typical university professor. This has given rise to the view that Kant was a pure thinker with no life of (...) his own, or at least none worth considering seriously. In this biography, Manfred Kuehn debunks that myth once and for all. Taking account of the most recent scholarship Professor Kuehn allows the reader to follow the same journey that Kant himself took in emerging as a central figure in modern philosophy. (shrink)
This is the first intellectual biography of Descartes in English. Stephen Gaukroger provides a rich, authoritative account of Descartes' intellectual and personal development, understood in its historical context, and offers a reassessment of all aspects of his life and work.
This article discusses recent attempts to provide the genre of biography with a philosophical, theoretical foundation and attempts to show that such efforts are fundamentally misguided. Biography is, I argue, a profoundly nontheoretical activity, and this, precisely, makes it philosophically interesting. Instead of looking to philosophy to provide a theory of biography, we should, I maintain, look to biography to provide a crucially important example and model of what Ludwig Wittgenstein called "the kind of understanding that (...) consists in seeing connections." This kind of understanding stands in sharp contrast to the theoretical understanding provided by science and is, Wittgenstein maintained, what we as philosophers are, or should be, striving for. (shrink)
One of the founders of modern philosophical thought Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel has gained the reputation of being one of the most abstruse and impenetrable of thinkers. This major biography of Hegel offers not only a complete account of the life, but also a perspicuous overview of the key philosophical concepts in Hegel's work in a style that will be accessible to professionals and non-professionals alike. Terry Pinkard situates Hegel firmly in the historical context of his times. The story (...) of that life is of an ambitious, powerful thinker living in a period of great tumult dominated by the figure of Napoleon. The Hegel who emerges from this account is a complex, fascinating figure of European modernity, who offers us a still compelling examination of that new world born out of the political, industrial, social, and scientific revolutions of his period. (shrink)
Review Essay: Exemplary Stories: On the Uses of Biography in Recent Sociology: Alan Sica and Stephen Turner The Disobedient Generation: Social Theorists in the Sixties ; Mathieu Deflem Sociologists in a Global Age: Biographical Perspectives ; Anthony Elliott and Charles Lemert, The New Individualism: The Emotional Costs of Globalization.
Reid, Constance. Hilbert (a Biography). Reviewed by Corcoran in Philosophy of Science 39 (1972), 106–08. -/- Constance Reid was an insider of the Berkeley-Stanford logic circle. Her San Francisco home was in Ashbury Heights near the homes of logicians such as Dana Scott and John Corcoran. Her sister Julia Robinson was one of the top mathematical logicians of her generation, as was Julia’s husband Raphael Robinson for whom Robinson Arithmetic was named. Julia was a Tarski PhD and, in recognition (...) of a distinguished career, was elected President of the American Mathematics Society. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Robinson http://www.awm-math.org/noetherbrochure/Robinson82.html. (shrink)
This biography of Jacques Derrida tells the story of a Jewish boy from Algiers, excluded from school at the age of twelve, who went on to become the most widely translated French philosopher in the world – a vulnerable, tormented man who, throughout his life, continued to see himself as unwelcome in the French university system. We are plunged into the different worlds in which Derrida lived and worked: pre-independence Algeria, the microcosm of the École Normale Supérieure, the cluster (...) of structuralist thinkers, and the turbulent events of 1968 and after. We meet the remarkable series of leading writers and philosophers with whom Derrida struck up a friendship: Louis Althusser, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean Genet, and Hélène Cixous, among others. We also witness an equally long series of often brutal polemics fought over crucial issues with thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, John R. Searle, and Jürgen Habermas, as well as several controversies that went far beyond academia, the best known of which concerned Heidegger and Paul de Man. We follow a series of courageous political commitments in support of Nelson Mandela, illegal immigrants, and gay marriage. And we watch as a concept – deconstruction – takes wing and exerts an extraordinary influence way beyond the philosophical world, on literary studies, architecture, law, theology, feminism, queer theory, and postcolonial studies. In writing this compelling and authoritative biography, Benoît Peeters talked to over a hundred individuals who knew and worked with Derrida. He is also the first person to make use of the huge personal archive built up by Derrida throughout his life and of his extensive correspondence. Peeters’ book gives us a new and deeper understanding of the man who will perhaps be seen as the major philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century. (shrink)
In the growing body of academic literature on biography that has developed in the last few decades, Virginia Woolf's essay, "The New Biography,"1 has come to occupy a central place—mentioned, discussed and quoted from, I would estimate, more often than any other piece of writing on the subject. Virginia Woolf's distinctive view of the nature and limitations of biography has thus had, and continues to have, a deep and wide-ranging influence on the way the genre is discussed (...) by critics and theorists. My aim in this essay is to present a detailed analysis of Virginia Woolf's thinking about biography in order to make clear why I believe its influence on contemporary theorising about biography is, on the whole, a misfortune. As is often pointed out, Virginia Woolf's views on biography are closely connected with—indeed, to an extent that I hope to make clear, they are simply an application of—her views on fiction. In the light of this, I have tried to trace some of the most striking features of her thinking about biography back to her earlier thoughts on fiction, as presented in both her novels and her essays. The result, I hope, will be that, while the attractions of her way of looking at fiction and biography are recognised and revealed, the manifest flaws in her thinking on these subjects are clearly exposed. (shrink)
Written by one of the world's preeminent authorities on Kierkegaard, this 2001 biography was the first to reveal the delicate imbrication of Kierkegaard's life and thought. To grasp the importance and influence of Kierkegaard's thought far beyond his native Denmark, it is necessary to trace the many factors that led this gifted but 'exceedingly childish youth' to grapple with traditional philosophical problems and religious themes in a way that later generations would recognize as amounting to a philosophical revolution. This (...) book offers a powerful narrative account which will be of particular interest to philosophers, literary theorists, intellectual historians, and scholars of religious studies as well as any non-specialist looking for an authoritative guide to the life and work of one of the most original and fascinating figures in Western philosophy. (shrink)
A comprehensive biography which covers Adorno's life, work and times: from childhood, through to his student years, his years in emigration, his return to post-war Germany, his time in Frankfurt, his role as a public intellectual, and his ...
Review of Desmond M. Clarke. Descartes: A Biography. xi + 507 pp., apps., figs., bibl., index. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. $40 (cloth).; Richard Watson, Cogito, Ergo Sum: The Life of René Descartes. viii + 375 pp., figs., bibl., index. Boston: David R. Godine, 2002. $35 (cloth).
Thomas Hobbes is recognized as one of the fathers of modern philosophy and political theory. In his own time he was as famous for his work in physics, geometry, and religion. He associated with some of the greatest writers, scientists, and politicians of his age. Martinich has written a complete and accessible biography of Hobbes. The book takes full account of the historical and cultural context in which Hobbes lived, drawing on both published and unpublished sources. It will be (...) a great resource for philosophers, political theorists and historians of ideas. The clear, crisp prose style will also ensure that the book appeals to general readers with an interest in the history of philosophy, the rise of modern science and the English Civil War. (shrink)
Some philosophers such as Ninian Smart have claimed that mystics from different religious traditions may sometimes have the same experience , while nevertheless giving different and tradition-bound descriptive reports of that experience. In two important essays, Steven Katz has challenged such a claim. Mystics from different religious traditions do not have the same experience.
Julian Schwinger was one of the leading theoretical physicists of the twentieth century. His contributions are as important, and as pervasive, as those of Richard Feynman, with whom he shared the 1965 Nobel Prize for Physics. Yet, while Feynman is universally recognized as a cultural icon, Schwinger is little known even to many within the physics community. In his youth, Julian Schwinger was a nuclear physicist, turning to classical electrodynamics after World War II. In the years after the war, he (...) was the first to renormalize quantum electrodynamics. Subsequently, he presented the most complete formulation of quantum field theory and laid the foundations for the electroweak synthesis of Glashow, Weinberg, and Salam, and he made fundamental contributions to the theory of nuclear magnetic resonance, to many-body theory, and to quantum optics. He developed a unique approach to quantum mechanics, measurement algebra, and a general quantum action principle. His discoveries include 'Feynman's' parameters and 'Glauber's' coherent states; in later years he also developed an alternative to operator field theory which he called Source Theory, reflecting his profound phenomenological bent. His late work on the Thomas-Fermi model of atoms and on the Casimir effect continues to be an inspiration to a new generation of physicists. This biography describes the many strands of his research life, while tracing the personal life of this private and gentle genius. (shrink)
Fleck's Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact foregrounds claims traditionally excluded from reception, often regarded as opposed to fact, scientific claims that are increasingly seldom discussed in connection with philosophy of science save as examples of pseudoscience. I am especially concerned with scientists who question the epidemiological link between HIV and AIDS and who are thereby discounted—no matter their credentials, no matter the cogency of their arguments, no matter the sobriety of their statistics—but also with other classic examples of (...) so-called pseudoscience including homeopathy and other sciences, such as cold fusion. The pseudoscience version of the demarcation problem turns out to include some of the details that Latour articulates multifariously under a variety of species or kinds in his essay/interactive research project/monograph, ‘Biography of an Investigation’. Given the economic constraints of the current day, especially in the academy, the growing trend in almost all disc.. (shrink)
This collection of essays deals with the relationship between Wittgenstein's life and his philosophy. The first two essays reflect on general problems inherent in philosophical biography itself. The essays that follow draw on recently published letters as well as recently published diaries from the 1930s to explore Wittgenstein's background as an engineer and its relation to the Tractatus, the impact of his schizoid personality on his approach to philosophy, his role as a diarist, letter-writer and polemicist, and finally the (...) complex issue of Wittgenstein as a Jew. Written by a first-rate team of Wittgenstein scholars including two published biographers of the philosopher, Brian McGuinness and Ray Monk, this collection will appeal to anyone with a serious interest in the most influential philosopher of the twentieth century. (shrink)
René Descartes is best remembered today for writing 'I think, therefore I am', but his main contribution to the history of ideas was his effort to construct a philosophy that would be sympathetic to the new sciences that emerged in the seventeenth century. To a great extent he was the midwife to the Scientific Revolution and a significant contributor to its key concepts. In four major publications, he fashioned a philosophical system that accommodated the needs of these new sciences and (...) thereby earned the unrelenting hostility of both Catholic and Calvinist theologians, who relied on the scholastic philosophy that Descartes hoped to replace. His contemporaries claimed that his proofs of God's existence in the Meditations were so unsuccessful that he must have been a cryptic atheist and that his discussion of skepticism served merely to fan the flames of libertinism. This is the first biography in English that addresses the full range of Descartes' interest in theology, philosophy and the sciences and that traces his intellectual development through his entire career. (shrink)
For forty years, Creighton Peden has been engaged in significant scholarship to preserve the nineteenth and twentieth-century tradition of American empirical, pragmatic theology and in particular, the work of the Chicago School. He has edited or coedited several volumes of authors’ unpublished works including one with John Gaston on Edward Scribner Ames, also published in 2011. Further, he has created a series of intellectual biographies on leaders of this unique tradition.Peden’s biography of Ames is organized in three sections. The (...) opening two chapters set the historical context of Ames’s work in the Disciples of Christ denomination and in his own personal autobiography. The middle section.. (shrink)
In the last years, a series of automated self-representational social media sites have emerged that shed light on the information ethics associated with participation in Web 2.0. Sites like Zoominfo.com, Pipl.com, 123People.com and Yasni.com not only continually mine and aggregate personal information and biographic data from the web and beyond to automatically represent the lives of people, but they also engage algorithmic networking logics to represent connections between them; capturing not only who people are, but whom they are connected to. (...) Indeed, these processes of 'auto-biography' are 'secret' ones that for the most part escape the user's attention. This article explores how these sites of auto-biography reveal the complexities of the political economy of Web 2.0, as well as implicate an ethics of exposure concerning how these processes at once participate in the erosion of privacy, and at the same time, in the reinforcement of commodification and surveillance regimes. (shrink)
‘Books are the work of solitude, and the children of silence.’ Thus Marcel Proust. The writer is not the same person as the man. The writer, if any good, is a different person, a higher person or at least one who distils something more worthy than is evidenced in the blunderings and fumblings and inadequacies of the everyday character who shares the same skin. This was the basis of Proust's own blistering attack on Sainte-Beuve, to the effect that the critic (...) substituted gossip for criticism and, incidentally, failed to recognize the genius of Baudelaire.In philosophy we have our own Proustian tendency, in the unlikely form of Karl Popper, For Popper, the provenance of ideas is supremely unimportant—and so, by extension is the biography of their authors. A healthy corrective, one might think, to the present day culture of celebrity, even at the intellectual level, and to the flood of philosophical biographies and title-tattle. At a more serious level, it warns us that we should not treat a philosopher's ideas with suspicion because (just because he was a Nazi in his lifetime or she was a communist when she was young or the apostle of equality is a snob living high on the hoof or the advocate of open discussion anything but its practitioner. (shrink)
The existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers is the father of a discourse on the spiritual consequences of the Holocaust. First addressed as the Schuldfrage (the question of guilt) by Jaspers immediately after the Second World War in his famous Heidelberg lecture, it has reappeared in various forms in German life and letters. Post-unification Germany has witnessed the valorization of the German experience of the Second World War. This ongoing re-evaluation has its antecedents in the generational literature of the 1970s and 1980s. (...) Whereas the Vaterliteratur of the 1970s (by authors such as Christoph Meckel, Uwe Timm, and Peter Henisch) was often embedded in a left-wing critique of the establishment, recent contributions to this growing genre (by Marcel Beyer, Stephan Wackwitz, Wibke Bruhns, and Ulla Hahn among others) speak to the issue of collective identity and transgenerational family trauma outside distinct left- and right-wing interpretations of National Socialism. The current writings on the life during the Third Reich (filtered through the experiences of discrete generations) are a confluence of historical writing, memorial literature, biography, and fiction. They are closely related to the discussions that W. G. Sebald initiated in his 1997 lecture series on the silence of German postwar literature with respect to German suffering. The subsequent debate on how to bring closure to this ?German suffering? was intensified by Günter Grass's widening of the concept of German victimization beyond the air war controversy in his book Crabwalk (2002). As Grass distinguishes clearly between the various post-World War II generations (and their different perspectives on historical events), the question becomes whether these recent writings will bring about a final so-called ?zero hour? in German postwar history. (shrink)
Michael Eckert has written a remarkable biography of Arnold Sommerfeld , the “off-scale” theoretical physicist who made his Seminar at the University of Munich the outstanding school of theoretical physics of the first third of the twentieth century. Sommerfeld was the teacher and mentor of a large number of exceptional theoretical physicists who studied with him either as doctoral or post-doctoral studentsSee the Wikipedia entry for Arnold Sommerfeld for a complete listing of all his students by category.; and among (...) these, Peter Debye, Max von Laue, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Linus Pauling and Hans Bethe became Nobel laureates.In his prologue, Eckert noted that a scientific biography should serve not only as a vehicle to describe and explain scientific processes in a social and cultural context, but must also present “the ambitions, passions, and moral choices of a life in science”. Eckert was able to meet these demands by drawing on Sommerfeld’s personal and .. (shrink)
The “Lives of Great Religious Books” from Princeton University Press is a series with the worthy goal of introducing general readers to major works from many different traditions. The phrase “lives of” indicates that the point is not just to elucidate the work’s meaning but also to trace how it has been interpreted between the time of its composition and the present day. In Richard H. Davis, the author of one previous book on visual culture in India and another dealing (...) with Śaiva ritual, Princeton has found a happy conjunction of scholar and subject matter. To The Bhagavad Gita: A Biography Davis brings years of reflection on the diversity of religious expression in medieval and modern India, and.. (shrink)
This article discusses attempts of Russian philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries to suggest thegenre of “philosophical biography” as a special kind of philosophical work. So, philosophical biography is treated as an understanding of life. The most important features of philosophical biography in Russian thinkers’ interpretation are as follows: the focus on comprehension of life-drama, in which thoughts and senses act as personal events; the demand of spiritual affinity as a condition for understanding; and the creation (...) of spiritual image as the main task of biography. (shrink)
Michael Losonsky - Locke: A Biography - Journal of the History of Philosophy 46:1 Journal of the History of Philosophy 46.1 175-176 Muse Search Journals This Journal Contents Reviewed by Michael Losonsky Colorado State University Roger Woolhouse. Locke: A Biography. Cambridge-New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xviii + 528. Cloth, $39.99. "A man of versatile mind"—a remark from a letter to Locke by a life-long friend—is the subtitle of the first chapter of this biography. It could (...) also be the book's subtitle. Relying on Locke's correspondence, manuscripts, and mostly unpublished journals, Woolhouse pieces together a detailed quilt that exhibits the tremendous variety of Locke's interests and activities. Locke, who admitted to wandering interests , wrote about medicine, horticulture, religion, education, economics, government, and human understanding, as well as occasional poetry and a play. He even.. (shrink)
Charles Hartshorne: Biography and Psychology of Sensation Charles Hartshorne is widely regarded as having been an important figure in twentieth century metaphysics and philosophy of religion. His contributions are wide-ranging. He championed the aspirations of metaphysics when it was unfashionable, and the metaphysic he championed helped change some of the fashions of philosophy. He counted … Continue reading Hartshorne: Biography and Psychology of Sensation →.
Biography is an ancient literary genre. First of all—chronologically and logically it is a part of historiography. Whether we think of biography as more like history or more like fiction, what we want from it is a vivid sense of the person. The cover illustration of the fortieth anniversary edition of E. H. Carr’s What is History?1 is a close-up of an eye with fluffy white clouds against a blue iris and a dramatic black pupil in the center. (...) Magritte called this painting The False Mirror, an apt image for the untrustworthy nature of our perceptions of the world and, in its use here, for the uncertainties surrounding definitions of history in the past half century. Confusion has often accompanied .. (shrink)