Hobbesian vs Benthamite Politics

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was not an optimist about human behaviour. Writing more than a century after Niccolo Machiavelli, the English political philosopher argued in his masterwork, Leviathan (1651), that the quest for power was the main motivation for humans. And that our quest to acquire more would never cease until we were dead. He wrote: …in the first place, I put for a general inclination of … (more–>)

The Book of Knowledge: 3

Back in the Mesozoic of my life, I came across a quotation from Giacomo Casanova that, as far as I can remember these days, went “No man can know everything, but every man should attempt to.” For many decades, I didn’t know the source, or whether it was misquoted, misattributed, or simply a fake as we experience so often on most internet quote sites (aka clickbait … (more–>)

Ars Poetica

Horace’s Ars Poetica, or the Art of Poetry, was written as a 476-line poem in a letter to his friend, the Roman senator  Lucius Calpurnius Piso (Lucius) and his two sons, around 19 BCE. It was known for a time as the “Epistle to the Pisos” until 95CE when the critic  Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (Quintilian) called it the Ars Poetica in his a twelve-volume textbook on … (more–>)

Milton Was Wrong

In 1644, the English poet and pamphleteer John Milton wrote an impassioned defence of free speech (or, more factually, against censorship of print and in favour of restriction-free publication) called the Areopagitica. It was subtitled A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England. In it, Milton argued that, given the choice between truth and lies, people were … (more–>)

Smith, Rock, and the Trivialization of Western Culture

If Neil Postman were alive today, sitting in a bar or café with Chris Hedges, I wonder which one would say “I told you so!” first after seeing social media this past week? The story that clogged the social media pipes this week was the slap one actor gave another on stage during the performance of the annual onanism festival called the Oscars. And as soon … (more–>)

Kerouac’s Haikus

Haiku is like a razor blade: small, light, but yet strong and incredibly sharp. Haiku says “Look over there!” and then smacks you from the other side. Haiku is the neutron star of poetry: stunning density combined with astounding brightness. Haiku swims in a sea of metaphor, darting like quick, bright fish among the forest of words. Haiku has a formal definition: “an unrhymed verse form of … (more–>)

Wild Fruits

When he died of tuberculosis in his mother’s home, in 1862, 44-year-old Henry David Thoreau had already made his mark on the world with the publication of several books and numerous essays, including Civil Disobedience, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, The Maine Woods, A Yankee in Canada, and his classic, Walden, or Life in the Woods. I trust we’re all familiar with Thoreau’s … (more–>)

Musings on the First Tercet of Dante’s Inferno

Back in December, before Godaddy broke my blog through technical incompetence, I had written a piece about the first stanza in Inferno, the first book of Dante’s trilogy, The Divine Comedy. Since that post seems irretrievably lost, I decided to write another in the same vein. So please bear with me if this seems redundant. It all began innocently enough on Tuesday late last year when … (more–>)

Ammon Shea is My New Hero

Eyyyyyyy Wssup guys This was the entire first post that started a thread in a group I belonged to on Facebook. I think seeing it aged me a decade, and encouraged me to leave the group afterwards. Walking barefoot on broken glass would cause me less distress. All the poster needed to do to make me despair enough to seriously consider slitting my wrists would have … (more–>)

Casanova Dies in Bohemia

At the end of his long and storied life, Giacomo Casanova found himself a lonely man in a damp, cold castle in Bohemia, a small German kingdom distant from all the places where he had lived and loved. The servants mocked him, making fun of his stuffy, outdated and foreign fashions, his powdered wigs and stiff formality. He is from an older world, a more refined … (more–>)

Montaigne on Ketchup-Flavoured Cheetos

In his famous work, Essays, Michel de Montaigne, channelling the Epicureans, wrote that, “All the opinions in the world point out that pleasure is our aim. (Book I: On the Power of Imagination).” And I have to admit that what we euphemistically call “junk food” is a widespread pleasure that many of us enjoy these days. Of course, Montaigne, ever the skeptic, also wrote, “Que sais … (more–>)

Musings on The Tempest and Council

It was a dark and stormy night… Shakespeare’s last solo-authored play, The Tempest, opens with a storm (the eponymous tempest) in which a group of elite passengers (a king, a duke, relatives, and courtly hangers-on) gets washed overboard (or jump) while the working sailors remain safe onboard their ship. In fact, the working class are sturdy, brave, and steadfast as they struggle to save the ship … (more–>)

A Meeting of the Minds?

Niccolo Machiavelli and Michel de Montaigne never met, nor could they have — Machiavelli died six years before Montaigne was born, and they lived about 1,200 km (800 miles) apart — but imagine the conversations they could have had if they had lived at the same time and close enough to visit one another, to have dinner together. Imagine the hard-nosed philosopher of the body politic … (more–>)

Musings on Reading Literature

There’s a passage from the novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog (by Muriel Barbery, Europa Editions, 2008, p. 116-117) that so delighted me when I came across it that I read it aloud to Susan: “Mildly hemorrhagic urine” is, to me, a form of light entertainment: it has a nice ring to it and evokes a singular world, a brief refreshing change from literature. For the … (more–>)

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