Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Klaus Theweleit; Object-Choice (All You Need is Love...)

Again, a book I picked up and read due to possible dissertation relevance, and indeed, there were a few interesting pages on male-creators and the choices they make in women that might well be useful. It also put me on the track of another book which seems to deal specifically with male creation, so all in all, time well spent.

Object-Choice is an analysis of the people we choose to "fall in love" with, or choose as partners, based on psycho-class (birth order), career, creativity, etc. and includes an analysis of the relationships of several famous couples: Alfred and Alma Hitchcock, Hannah Arendt and Heidegger, and Freud and Martha Bernays.

The blurb describes this book as "a collage book, mixing autobiography, theory and pop culture, and always haunted by history" and despite being a very interesting and informative book, stylistically, that's it's problem - it's a collage. It sometimes reads like a jumble of sentences not quite related stuck in random order on the page. The constant use of unexplained or barely explained quotes from modern songs annoyed me, and (perhaps because they're unexplained) I didn't really see their purpose - most didn't illuminate the text any further (the only exception being The Beatles quotes). It's a good read, but the style definitely takes some getting used to. It's more lucid in some places than in others - the introduction and conclusion in particular are jumpy and obscure, but the rest is mostly fine. And really, the style's not that bad, but it certainly distracted me from the content at times.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Freud; The Interpretation of Dreams

The Interpretation of Dreams is probably Freud's most well-known work, in which he propounds the infamous theory of the Oedipus Complex and the theory that all dreams are wish-fulfillment. Beginning with an assessment of previous theories of dreams, Freud then moves on to elaborate his own method of dream analysis and the idea that all dreams are wish-fulfillment after which he discusses the issues that would arise from such a claim, and the explanations that can be given by way of dream-distortion, displacement and condensation.

I found The Interpretation of Dreams fairly easy reading - I can't say I agree with everything Freud wrote (who does?), but his argument is easy to understand and the language lucid and precise. The frequent exposition of dreams throughout the work helps keep things clear and is fascinating in itself. The last 50 or so pages are slightly more technical than those preceding, but they're still not taxing to understand.

The influence of this book is almost impossible to overstate - outside of psychology it has affected how we look at art, music, myth, literature, ourselves, and others. Even folk-psychology has been affected by The Interpretation of Dreams. I would recommend reading this to anyone interested in studying any of the above listed topics.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Kierkegaard; Fear and Trembling

So, as previously mentioned, I'm studying Kierkegaard in my Existentialism unit. Most of the time, we're just reading extracts from various works - we simply don't have the time to read the whole of Either/Or. Technically, we're only supposed to be reading extracts from Fear and Trembling too, but it's a comparatively short book, and I already owned a copy, so since I knew I could read the whole thing by my Friday seminar, I decided to do just that.

Fear and Trembling is a philosophical book in which Kierkegaard (writing under the pseudonym Johannes de silentio) sets out to express exactly how difficult it is to have faith. Kierkegaard thinks most people vastly overestimate how easy it is to have faith, and believes that actually, it requires a vast effort to achieve, because it requires understanding of the paradoxical beliefs faith demands from you - you must be prepared to surrender everything, and indeed, believe you have to surrender everything and still, through the strength of the absurd, believe that God will give it back to you. To illustrate his point he take Abraham - the 'father of faith' - as an example throughout the whole book.

Personally, I found Fear and Trembling slightly easier going than some of the other Kierkegaard I've read, and I also found it all highly engaging and stimulating. The first few pages - the Preface, Attunement, and Speech in Praise of Abraham are amazing - the kind of thing I'd recommend anyone interested in philosophy, religion, or theology read, even if they then didn't read the rest. I can honestly say I never really appreciated the enormity of Abraham's dilemma and all its implications until I read this. If you do go on to read the rest of it, you might find that you have to read certain parts a few times to properly understand what he's saying (the style is not always straight-forward and clear in its explanation), but it's well worth the effort. Even if by the end, you're pretty sure that you've not understood all of it, understanding any of it is certainly an enriching experience.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Patrick Gardiner; Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction

When I was in the first year of my degree, I had a very scornful approach to the Short Introduction series - 'I've studied Socrates before, I don't need an introduction to him!' and I tended to ignore them. I can't remember why I ended up first buying or reading one, but when I did I realised that actually, they're really good, and really useful. They're written by expert academics in the relevant fields, and they're not some condescending drivel that assumes that you must be an idiot to need an introduction to a specific topic. Even if you already know a bit about a certain topic, they can really help solidify you're understanding of it, or just jog your memory - if you've read a book by a certain philosopher or author, and are humble enough to admit that actually, you didn't quite understand it all, then a VSI book could very well just give you that extra explanation you need to get more out of the text. On the flip side, that does mean they do assume a certain level of familiarity with the subject in general - so if you've never studied philosophy at all, an introduction to Kierkegaard might not be the best place to start.

So, since my Existentialism course focuses on Kierkegaard and Sartre, I figured it might be relevant reading. It was useful, concise, clear (or as clear as you can be when describing such complicated philosophy in so few pages) and good for a general grounding. I would suggest that it would be more useful to someone who has at least read (or tried to read) some Kierkegaard than to someone who's never picked up one of his books. I know I certainly got more out of the chapters which concerned books I'd read at least parts of than those chapters concerning books I'd not touched yet. Obviously, I'm not suggesting someone read all of Kierkegaard before they read the Introduction to him, that would of course, be slightly silly, but dipping in to Either/Or and Fear and Trembling before you begin might be helpful (or at least reading the wikipedia articles on them/the introductions at the start of those books, etc.)

Monday, 1 February 2010

David Malouf; Remembering Babylon

I picked this one up purely because of the title (I have a small obsession with Babylon). The tale is one of Gemmy - a white boy lost to untamed Australia when he was young and raised by natives. One day, tormented by inexplicable flashes from a barely-remembered past he ventures into a small settlement of white Irish people. The towns-folk are unsettled, and don't know whether to treat him as one of themselves, or one of the natives. His skin is white, but his mannerisms are native, as is his tongue bar a scattered few words of English that he can, with some effort, muster up.

Remembering Babylon is a story of individual and communal identity, explored through the barriers that age, language and up-bringing create. The story is mostly interesting enough to keep your attention, and the themes are well developed and carefully woven in to the plot. But despite that I felt that the ending was somewhat lacking. It's as if Malouf simply ran out of steam, or ideas, or both. There are quite a few annoying loose ends and characters who seem to simply stop existing after having been giving a detailed background and following. Half-way through the book, I was enjoying it, but the ending left me dissatisfied and confused as to what point exactly Malouf was trying to make.

Jung; Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster

I read this as part of my research for my classics dissertation. I really only needed to read the sections on 'mother' and 'trickster', but it's hardly a long book so I decided to read it all. The title of the book is fairly self-explanatory: it contains analyses of four different archetypes - mother, rebirth, spirit, and trickster.

It's interesting if you're into psychology, mythology (meaning the study of myth, rather than simply the myths themselves), and Jung in particular. If you haven't read any Jung before, it's not a great place to start as there's very little time devoted to attempting to define archetypes in general before moving on to the four specific archetypes in question. But I suppose that's what you get for reading a compilation of four separate papers which all presuppose some degree of familiarity with the concept. His analyses of different myths and folk tales which he uses to illustrate to archetypes at work are very interesting and thought-provoking even if you don't agree with them whole-heartedly, though I found several (not all) of the cases quite convincingly explained when the archetype was applied.

If you're not interesting in psychology, mythology, or aren't interested in Jung, then you'll have very little reason to read this.