Some measure of insanity

Let me simply record this statement from Donald Winnicott, which I have taken from the end of Adam Phillips' short book on the enigmatically wise child-doctor and psychoanalyst: If I want to say that Jung was mad, and he recovered, I am doing nothing worse than I would do in saying of myself that I... Continue Reading →


Notes on the death of culture (Mario Vargas Llosa)

Mario Vargas Llosa reviews, in the overture to this work, four influential essays on the traumatic descent into death of culture, as he says, in the meaning traditionally ascribed to that term.  First, he reviews T.S. Eliot's Notes towards a definition of culture (1948), in which Eliot anticipates today's burning archive: "I see no reason... Continue Reading →

Life cycles

Our culture may lie in ruins; our republics may be distressed; our economies blackjacked by rentier financiers; our societies fissured with conflicts of identity; but at least our lives are longer. This great achievement of medicine and social development has changed the potential of human lives in harness with its twin, the fertility revolution. In... Continue Reading →

Wallace Stevens’ mind of winter

Wallace Stevens is a poet for lovers of beauty among ruins. For those of us in the second half of life he is of unique importance: diligent insurance executive, sometimes benighted husband, and much deferred, superbly deferred poet. He first read his poetry aloud to an audience, with some awkwardness in 1938 at the age... Continue Reading →

Millenial predictions: return of totalitarianisms

Fernandez-Armesto's second prediction was that rival totalitarianisms would return. This prediction was bravely conservative or pessimistic, when drafted a few short years after Fukuyama's rush of hegelianism to the head in The end of history. Fernandez-Armesto by contrast saw the apparent worldwide installation of liberal democracy as a false dawn. His prediction rested on a... Continue Reading →

Reclusive samizdat

To live authentically within the ruins of our culture today, to practise the ritual of writing solemnly, without regard for fame and fortune and the flickering nonsense of panel shows, to be in the world as God's secretary, meticulous and devoted to something larger than your own life, to live truly to each of these... Continue Reading →

The extinction of meaning

The solitary writer dwells in an oppressive fear; that the line of culture, the traditions, the teachings that his labors seek to preserve against the decay of all human institutions, this thread of meaning, which he has painstakingly recovered from the past and braided with the personal traumas that inspire any writer, this way of... Continue Reading →

An interlude on disaffection and living in truth

Yet again today I had the experience of feeling like I belonged nowhere and with no one in a room discussing political ideas. Yet again I felt disaffected from all political institutions, homeless among political ideas, cast out and made to appear a madman in expressing political thoughts. Where everyone appeals to networks and reputation,... Continue Reading →

Predicting population and initiative

Fernandez-Armesto's first projection was that the world's population would be contained. Was this projection, made twenty years ago, correct? The United Nations Population Division has published its World Poulation Prospects: 2015 Revision, which contains the latest information on population worldwide, and projections to 2100 ( World population has reached 7.3 billion, and has increased by... Continue Reading →

Millennial predictions

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto at the end of his 1995 Millenium: a history of our last thousand years made five predictions. His predictions were coined self-consciously with the "trenchantly asserted" tone of futurology, but were spoken with the self-deprecating irony of an author humbled before the diversity of human experience. To display that irony, he in fact made... Continue Reading →

The disenchantment of the world

I have long known this phrase - in German die Entziehung der Welt - from Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and known it as the long historical process in which rational, scientific and commercial action stripped the objects of the world of their magic, spirit and divine presence. The life world... Continue Reading →

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