Absurdism, Books

Soviet Deadpan

Here is an tale, written in 1936, by the Russian writer Daniil Kharms.

An old woman fell out of a window because she was too curious. She fell and broke into pieces.
Another old woman leaned out of the window and looked at the one that had broken into pieces, but because she was too curious, she also fell out of the window – fell and broke into pieces.
Then a third woman fell out of the window, then a fourth, and then a fifth.
When the sixth old woman fell out of the window, I became fed up with watching them and went to the Maltsevsky Market, where they said a blind man had been presented with a knit scarf. Continue reading

Absurdism, Books, Rhetoric

A fellow of infinite jest

Recently I summarised, dissected, reviewed and analysed Cervantes’s masterwork Don Quixote. It elicited a request for further classic works, more revered than read, to be so treated. Here, in a continuation of that public service, therefore, is my rumination on an English comic novel: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Sterne, first published in York in 1759.

The Monty Python team once held an All-England Summarise Proust Competition in which the finalists were required to summarise A la recherche du Temps Perdu, once in swimsuit and once in evening dress. Continue reading

Absurdism, Books

Rise of the deplorable

What is to be done?

Here is a story of hope.

Human beings are innately good and amendable to reason. As soon as, by enlightenment and emancipation, humans have overcome unreason and superstition and religion, a scientific-based humanism can be established with a chance of happiness for all. A predictive model of human behaviour can then advantageously guide economic and political relations. By this rational and scientific thinking, and a compassionate regard for all humanity, the human world can be rebuilt on secular lines. Humans, freed from archaism, will see that what is in their interest is also in society’s interest and act together in harmony upon it. Irrationality and hatred and violence, over time, can therefore be made unnecessary. What is needed is education and scientifically sound laws that promote this harmonious regulated life. This materialist philosophy of rational self-interest and progressiveness will promote happiness for all.

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Absurdism, Books

Windmills of the mind, Part 2

Don Quixote’s madness stems from his literal reading of books of chivalric romance and his deluded belief that he actually is a knight errant. He rides out into the realist world of Cervantes’ novel with a lofty dedication, inflicting his good intentions on others, and time and again is buffeted by stubborn reality. Quixote is generous, brave, courteous, resilient, knowledgeable, eloquent, and a complete idiot. I wrote about Part 1 of the novel last month. He rides out again, in Part 2, with his trusty squire Sancho Panza, having been revived after a month’s rest and the consumption of six hundred eggs.

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Absurdism, Art, Books, Rhetoric

Why I am an aesthete

Human lives are shaped by chance
Humans cannot master their own destiny
Resignation is a virtue
Contemplation is superior to action
God is dead
Humans are only in control of their stance towards fate
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
The good life is not a search for meaning, but a release from it
The human world is absurd and downright comic Continue reading

Absurdism, Books

Robotic morality tales

Last year Professor Stephen Hawking said that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” The A.I. community has responded to this impending apocalypse by proposing this week that robots be given stories to read. This will allow, according to associate professor Mark Riedl of the Georgia Institute of Technology, robots to learn to take a first step towards moral reasoning, or “value alignment” as his scientific paper bafflingly calls it.“We believe story comprehension in robots can eliminate psychotic-appearing behaviour and reinforce choices that won’t harm humans” he said. Continue reading

Absurdism, Books, Law

A second year in blogging, a retrospective

A love of irony is a sign of health; everything absolute belongs to pathology
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.

Language is an urgent political affair.
This year I have written posts from the battle lines of the language frontier:

  • Eminent speakers were silenced by self-righteous university student moralists;
  • Cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were shot for writing satire;
  • Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play The Witch of Walkern was pulled because its language offended;
  • Petitions to Parliament tried to make various human behaviour (and speech) criminal acts;
  • The Holocaust was asserted to be too reverent a subject for the language of comedy.
  • Writings of the sociologist Emile Durkheim were excluded from the A-level syllabus for fear it could trigger harmful reactions in student readers; Continue reading