Death Is Not The End

from n+1, March 2005:

‘Was theory a gigantic hoax? On the contrary. It was the only salvation, for a twenty year period, from two colossal abdications by American thinkers and writers. From about 1975 to 1995, through a historical accident, a lot of American thinking and mental living got done by people who were French, and by young Americans who followed the French.

The two grand abdications: one occurred in academic philosophy departments, the other in American fiction. In philosophy, from the 1930s on, a revolutionary group had been fighting inside universities to overcome the “tradition.” This insurgency, at first called “logical positivism” or “logical empiricism,” then simply “analytic philosophy,” was the best thing going. The original idea was that logical analysis of language would show which philosophical problems might be solved, and which eradicated because they were not phraseable in clear, logical language. That meant wiping out most of what Hegel had left us, and Europe still understood, as philosophy—including history, being, death, recognition, love. Still brand new in the 1930s (Carnap, Russell, Ayer) when trying to develop its ideal logical language, it had only just become institutional in the analytic pragmatism of the 1950s and 1960s (Quine), in time to be cranked up again in the 1970 (Kripke), saved from termination by the reintroduction of naive assumptions rejected at the start.’ Read more.

On reading

“The Decline and Fall of Literature”, The New York Review of Books, November 1999:

‘A couple of years ago, in an article explaining how funds for faculty positions are allocated in American universities, the provost of the University of California at Berkeley offered some frank advice to department chairs, whose job partly consists of lobbying for a share of the budget. “On every campus,” she wrote, “there is one department whose name need only be mentioned to make people laugh; you don’t want that department to be yours.”The provost, Carol Christ (who retains her faculty position as a literature professor), does not name the offender—but everyone knows that if you want to locate the laughingstock on your local campus these days, your best bet is to stop by the English department.’ Read more.

“Is Stupid Making Us Google?”, The New Atlantis, Summer 2008:

‘Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” Sound familiar?’ Read more.

“People of the Screen”, The New Atlantis, Fall 2008:

‘The book is modernity’s quintessential technology—“a means of transportation through the space of experience, at the speed of a turning page,” as the poet Joseph Brodsky put it. But now that the rustle of the book’s turning page competes with the flicker of the screen’s twitching pixel, we must consider the possibility that the book may not be around much longer. If it isn’t—if we choose to replace the book—what will become of reading and the print culture it fostered? And what does it tell us about ourselves that we may soon retire this most remarkable, five-hundred-year-old technology?’ Read more.