Zenomax: mezzotinted world

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Zenomax: mezzotinted world

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Editado: Dic 25, 2009, 6:12am

The world is a partially obscure place to me. I always feel that I only see and understand pieces of it.

The mezzotint, apart from being beautiful in its own right, renders the world semi obscure - not a photograph which depicts reality (or does it?), nor a painting which depicts the images of an inner eye.

So I deem my view of the world to be a mezzotinted view. My reading this year will, for the most part centre around some themes which I desire to know more about.

Reading log:

28. Swanns Way, Proust

27. On the Nature of the Psyche, Carl Jung

26. Dore's London

25. The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard

24. The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James

23. Swann's Way, Proust

22. Gods, Mongrels and Demons, Angus Calder

21. A little larger than the entire universe, Pessoa

20. The Book of Disquiet, Pessoa

19. Nadja, Andre Breton

18. Atget, Paris

17. The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus

16. Lost Cities, Gavin Stamp

15. A New Science of Life, Rupert Sheldrake

14. He knew he was right, John Gribbin

13. The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil

12. Shadow Lines, Lorna Martens

11. Robert Musil Diaries

10. The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin

9. Illuminations, Walter Benjamin

8. Russian Thinkers, Isaiah Berlin

7. The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Isaiah Berlin

6. Mayhews Characters, Peter Quennell

5. London in the nineteenth century, by Jerry White

4. Mapping London, by Simon Foxell

3. Balzac, by Stefan Zweig

2. Eugenie Grandet, by Balzac

1. Pere Goriot, Balzac.

mayo 16, 2009, 8:56pm

I adore Mezzo tints, engravings and woodcuts. Your reading list is very interesting to me as an addict of 19th century fiction. I'm really looking forward to following your thread!

Editado: mayo 17, 2009, 11:13am

The Balzac books above were read in the last few months.

Balzac was the conduit for something of a revelation to me. It was brewing anyway - the neocon experiment in Iraq was a learning for me - idealism (even if it was a very different idealism from mine) at the expense of expertise and dispassionate analysis was shown clearly to fail.

What Balzac showed - to my mind at least - was that utopias were for imagining not for trying to build. The real world was for more complex and unknowable.

I repeat here what I wrote at the time, as it still is a fair summary of my feelings;

Balzac understands how the world works.

Beavering away in the night-hours, drinking pots of coffee while the rest of the town sleeps, he writes of a fictional world close to his own real world.

Both worlds follow the tracks of his internal logic - ideology does not tell us anything about the world. It influences how people act, but it has no reality other than that. Instead, existence and events are governed by a series of minute connections, multiplied into infinity.

Thus, as these minute details become joined and conjoined and built up - into the world, the universe, the sum of human relations - they reach a level which can no longer be explained unless we isolate and understand each of the minute details. This is an impossible task. Therefore, logically, the world cannot be understood.

All that we can usefully do is understand each interaction, no matter how small, and weave it into a narrative.

The narrative therefore becomes the de facto explanation.

mayo 17, 2009, 11:18am

As Isaiah Berlin (via tomcatMurr) would have it, Balzac is a fox par excellence.

mayo 18, 2009, 1:30pm

One further thought - Balzac is the name given in Russia to one of the 16 personality types developed by the Socionincs school of personality typing (similar to the Myers Briggs school of thought which tends to be used in the West).

Balzac is the nickname given to the Socionics INTp type (also known as the 'Observer'). This is because the Russians consider Balzac to be a good example of this type.

One important personality trait of the INTp is said to be a well-developed imagination, and a corresponding rich inner world. This fits Balzac well.

He developed hundreds of characters across his many novels, each drawn - to my mind - in a way which allows you to imagine them as real people with real thoughts and feelings. They ring true, even if Balzac only devotes two sentences to them.

The other author that does this for me (in a different genre entirely) is Patrick O'Brien. I can see him too as an INTp.

mayo 18, 2009, 11:11pm

> 3 Very excellently put. I think Dickens also shares this characteristic.

> 4 I have not read O'Brien, but just last night I watched the movie of Master and Commander for the 100th time. It is a fantastically good film. If anyone reading this thread has any influence in Hollywood, please suggest to the powers that be to make a sequel.

mayo 19, 2009, 4:16pm

In that serendipitous fashion where, once you start to think deeply about something all sorts of unexpected connections begin to fly into your orbit, I began reading chapter 1 of The Crooked Timber of Humanity last night.

This has resonance for my own thinking about Balzac.

Berlin appears to have had his own journey from idealist to 'realist' - or 'pluralist' as I think he would have it.

He describes pluralism as '...the conception that there are many different ends that men may seek and still be fully rational, fully men, capable of understanding each other and sympathising and deriving light from each other, as we derive it from reading Plato or the novels of medieval Japan - worlds, outlooks, very remote from our own.'

By contrast, of those seeking perfection in society according to their particular ideals, he warns:

'To force people into the neat uniforms demanded by dogmatically believed in schemes is almost always the road to inhumanity'

Now I wonder if he goes on to mention Balzac....?

mayo 19, 2009, 4:32pm

By the ingenious expedient of looking up his name in the index, I find that Berlin does mention Balzac later on in the book.

This is in part what he writes:

'Whatever the political theorists may have taught, the imaginative literature of the nineteenth century...has (despite the apocalyptic moments of Dostoevsky or Walt Whitman) remained singularly unaffected by Utopian dreams. There is no vision of perfection in Tolstoy, or Turgenev, in Balzac or Flaubert or Baudelaire or Carducci.'

He includes others:

'The German romantic school and those it influenced, directly and indirectly, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wagner, Ibsen, Kafka, Becket, the existentialists, whatever fantasies of their own they may have generated, do not cling to the myth of an ideal world. Nor from his wholly different standpoint does Freud.

Berlin can't help but add:

' Small wonder that they have all been duly written off as decadent reactionaries by Marxist critics'

mayo 19, 2009, 4:43pm

And now I see a possible new reading topic around the German romantic school and the birth of modernism...how this thing snowballs once you get started!

mayo 19, 2009, 4:46pm

#6 I believe I shall read a Dickens novel to round off my Old London group of books - thanks for the prompt.

It may be fun to contrast him with Balzac.

mayo 19, 2009, 7:04pm

Berlin is soooo perceptive and of course, absolutely right. Where do these extracts come from?

The German romantic school: one of my great interests. We are having a group read of Hoffmann's Kater Murr (one of the key texts of German Romanticism) here if you're interested:


It would be great to have you along.

'To force people into the neat uniforms demanded by dogmatically believed in schemes is almost always the road to inhumanity' This is very similar to what Herzen says. I think Berlin was very influenced by Herzen.

mayo 20, 2009, 5:59am

The extracts in #7 & 8 are from The Crooked Timber of humanity.

In this book Berlin sites Machiavelli, Herzen, Johann Herder and Giambattista Vico as his key early influences in realising the importance of pluralism as a contrast to perfectionist idealism.

Jun 6, 2009, 2:24pm

"The eggs are broken, and the habit of breaking them grows, but the omelette remains invisible"

Isaiah Berlin on the reality of systems which seek to better mankind.

Note to self: Where do the puritans fit into this?

Jun 6, 2009, 2:35pm

Berlin argues conclusively against the possibility of an ideal society ever existing.

But what if one did exist - would there be harmony if there was an objectively best of all possible worlds?

I think here of Bozo, a character in one of Orwell's pieces (was it Down and Out or possibly the shorter work on tramps). Bozo said something like even if God existed I would personally dislike him.

Surely there will always be those who rail against the system, either agressively or passively, just because the consensus, the majority, the perceived right way of doing things is boring, inhibiting, and maybe a little tawdry...?

Jun 10, 2009, 3:09pm

Berlin on 'The Pursuit of the Ideal':

1. ideals, or supreme values are not always compatible with one another
2. different societies through time have had different ideals - there is not one ideal or group of ideals that has been held by all societies
3. in real life, as old problems are solved, new problems appear - nothing stands still, therefore to work towards an ideal society is a misplaced effort, and
4. if an ideal society was reached where goals were accepted by all, mans inner life, his ability to think and question and challenge would be denied him.

Berlin on Tolstoy's view of history, (and, in passing, of reality):

1. Tolstoy valued the concrete, the empirical, and distrusted the abstract, and the supernatural
2. "History, only history, only the sum of the concrete events in time and space...this alone contained the truth..."
3.However, history is a succession of unexplained events, so can never be 'mastered'
4. "Those who affect to be able to contract this infinite multiplicity within their 'scientific' laws must be either deliberate charlatans or blind leaders of the blind"
5. as a result, Tolstoy came to see that causal determinism ruled and man could not master it, because to master it would mean understanding every cause however small
6. the only thing which man can know consists of "...the individual experience, the specific relation of individuals to one another, the colours, smells, tastes, sounds and movements, the jealousies, loves, hatreds, passions, the rare flashes of insight, the transforming moments, the ordinary day to day succession of private data which constitute all there is...."

My view of Balzac:

1. Balzac intuitively understood all of this
2. Balzac captured the world - which he and Tolstoy believed must be unknowable - by writing about it. The tale is the de facto reality.

Editado: Jun 15, 2009, 12:39pm

And so it is time to move on to modernism.

My initial sources are Illuminations and Shadow Lines.

Martens, in the introduction to her book, argues that the Austrian intellectual mileu of the turn of the twentieth century was interested in the far side of what Nietzsche called '... a line which distinguishes what is clear and in full view from the dark and unilluminable'.

This was, she asserts, a break from the late 19th century view which had rejected analysis of the self in favour of the ability to 'feel', and 'live'.

And the 'dark area' which earlier writers had seen as delicate and elusive, was now seen 'as a seat of power'. In fact this dark area now '...comes to be viewed as the point of reference for everything that goes on in the light area.'

I can already see where this might lead:

- Jung and collective unconscious
- the visions of Kafka, Musil, Broch and Zamyatin
- dada and surrealism

ETA correction to touchstone

Jun 11, 2009, 6:36am

I'm following this with great interest, Zeno. I'm not sure I agree with Martens. It seems to me that at the end of the 19th century French and Russian decadent and symbolist writers specifically began to explore the darker areas of the self, lead by Dostoevsky, of course, who more or less invented the modern self, and showed us all how to see it and describe it.

Editado: Jun 14, 2009, 1:17am

Hey zeno, your touchstone for Shadow Lines leads me to the Amitav Ghosh novel. This one, Shadow Lines, works for me to get to the Martens book.

It seems that Jung shared some proclivities with Schroëdinger which kept them both active, alert, and intellectually productive well past the normal time for diminished capacity. Sometimes we have to dip into the shadow, so to speak, to find the good.

This is the actual touchstone that works:
Shadow Lines: Austrian

ETA a bit of this and that.

Editado: Jun 16, 2009, 5:02pm

Martens on Freud (post The Interpretation of Dreams):

1. The unconscious is a source of hidden meanings
2. "...in its innermost nature it is as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world"
3. but it is the source of vitality and meaning - so meaningful life no longer derives from the realm of light, but from the dark area, the irrational becomes more important than the rational, the past becomes of more import than the present, and the unknown of more interest than the known.
4. and Freud's system is dynamic: " This dynamism, the interplay of force and resistance, is also admirably suited to the construction of literary plots....The conflict between the two terms generates the story."

And so comes the birth of the modernist artist.

This seems to be the crux of the Martens argument - that Freud and the zeitgeist in Vienna at the turn of the century established a step change in the view of one's relationship with the dark area. From Freud onwards the unknown, this dark area, acquires something new. It is no longer static, it erects "... a mysterious line between it and us that itself becomes an object of fascination."

I fully expect that Dostoevsky and others were the vanguard in this movement towards modernism (and that the German Romanticists were a necessary step on that path), but Martens' thesis is that the real step change came with Freud. No longer was the removal of conflict seen as the path to a healthy state of being, to 'wholeness'. Conflict was actually part and parcel of the dynamic development of each individual and society.

Editado: Jun 16, 2009, 5:04pm

Murr, I'd be interested in where D. does fit into this.

Would you say he saw conflict as a state which needed to be resolved in order for an individual to attain a wholesome and fulfilling life?

Or did he already have some inkling of what was to come in terms of the upweighting of the unknown and the celebration of conflict as a dynamic force?

Jun 17, 2009, 12:41pm

Robert Musil

Jun 18, 2009, 3:54am

The first time I saw an image of Musil I thought to myself: this is a man who spends at least 99% of his time and energy inside his own head.

So as a fellow 99%'er I immediately felt a connection with him.

Over the next period of time I am going to work through Martens' assessment of his place in the pantheon of the Viennese turn of the century literati, and will scroll through both his Diaries and The Man Without Qualities.

Jun 19, 2009, 7:00am

>20 zenomax: Zeno, I am aware of your question and am trying to find time to respond appropriately. Please be patient.

BTW, I agree totally with your assessment of Musil's picture, from one 99 % er to another. I have not read the Diaries, but MWQ is brilliant, as is Young Torless, a shorter and earlier Musil work you might want to look at.

Jun 22, 2009, 1:20pm

"The man with an ordinary sense of reality is like a fish that nibbles at the hook but is unaware of the line, while the man with that sense of reality which can also be called a sense of possibility trawls a line through the water and has no idea whether there's any bait on it." - Robert Musil

Note to self - Is reality the product of nature or culture?

Jun 25, 2009, 3:19pm


Musil = the detached observer and critic.

Obsessive - but in what way? The Man Without Qualities certainly a manifestation of this.

It has been said that M saw the world:

"...as an unfixable, variegated and constantly self-transforming phenomenon."

Editado: Jun 26, 2009, 4:47pm

A short tangental journey back to the Viennese writers and their dealings with the unknown, via Martens.

The known, the unknown and the line between them are dealt with by these writers in a certain fashion.

If we call the unknown A, and the known or the knower B, some patterns can be illustrated.

Firstly, A is always more powerful than B, the latter having no power over the former.

Secondly, B cannot directly perceive A. Instead it may see merely a projection of itself, B1.

Periodically, A may manifest itself in symbolic form, A1. However, A1 always appears to B in a form which does not allow B to interrogate or examine it.

Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams posits that A1 is the dream. Whilst A, the unconscious, is inaccessible to us, it can reach us via the mediation of the dream. But B cannot move in the other direction towards A.

The alternative to Freud's explanation is that A is the means by which B, the person dreaming, understands A1. In other words we explain the dream by referring to an important unknown 'entity' for which the dream is the messenger.

Editado: Jun 26, 2009, 5:21pm

How does Robert Musil treat these concepts?

For Musil, B is reason, thought and language.

A is sensuality and feeling.

While B once again cannot reach A, A1, the 'simple view of things' reaches B:

"What looks grand and remote so long as our words are still reaching out towards it from a long way off, later, once it has entered the sphere of our everyday activities, becomes quite simple and loses all its disturbing quality."

To Martens, Musil is more pessimistic than Freud on the possibility of us penetrating to A through interpretation via A1. Musil illustrates each unsuccessful attempt by Torless' consciousness B to reach or capture A by using the motif of a small, light object emerging then disappearing into a dark background. For instance, we see:

"...a lit leaf against the darkness beyond the window", or later in the story, "...illuminated drops of water that are sprayed up and fall back into a dark sea."

Musil was particularly fascinated by the process whereby:

"...the simple state of things A1, becomes the confused state of things, A and B."

To Musil, these two states are mutually exclusive. They can happen in turn in the same subject, but not together. It is like a switch turning on and off, or like Wittgenstein's duck rabbit - you can only have one or the other inhabiting consciousness at any one time.

Editado: Jun 26, 2009, 5:16pm

Wittgensteins duck-rabbit.

Editado: Jun 26, 2009, 5:47pm

Musil illustrates each unsuccessful attempt by Torless' consciousness B to reach or capture A by using the motif of a small, light object emerging then disappearing into a dark background.

As I wrote this I had a strong vision of the early experiments with photography, when leaves arrived on a treated piece of paper only to disappear soon after. And when they did finally remain fixed, they were still ethereal, magical:

"The most transitory of things, a shadow, the proverbial emblem of all that is fleeting and momentary, may be fettered by the spells of our natural magic, and may be fixed for ever in the position which it seems only destined for a single instant to occupy."

Fox Talbot.

Natural magic here means the newly invented photographic process.

Editado: Ago 9, 2009, 6:10am

The modernists of turn of the century Vienna were not anti empiricists, they saw logic and reason, and the learnings of the Enlightenment as important. But they believed that reality was altogether more complex.

Whilst reason was important, it coexisted with the mystical and with instinct, these latter two being something which, in Musil's mind, could equally be explained by logic and reason.

Thus, in Young Torless Ulrich sees ecstatic states as:

"...not glimpses into another world but another way of seeing this one."

The Vanishing Subject, Judith Ryan

Musil appears to suggest the mystical experience, which the reasoning of the enlightenment does not explain, was neither divine in nature, nor even the expansion of the consciousness ("the privileged moment" of Pater), but rather a biological process.

It is the response to inner rather than outer stimuli, and is directed inwards rather than to the outside world. But it is not fundamentally different from feelings and actions which are stimulated by and reflected back onto the outside world.

ETA corrected Ryan reference

Editado: Jul 11, 2009, 11:53am

The idea of mystical experiences as the expansion of the consciousness into something greater than individual consciousness was developed by William James, brother of Henry James.

This is not dissimilar to the view of the greater unknown in Jung's collective unconscious.

Editado: Jul 14, 2009, 3:22pm

Kafka, himself

Editado: Jul 17, 2009, 6:31am

I am following this thread with great interest, Zenomax.

Is the breadown of Musil in 26 and 27 your own, or are you summarising Martens? It's very very interesting indeed. It's clear to me that I need to read TMWQ again. One thing I remember from it is the prevalence of the window as an image. The watcher through the window symbolizes the detachment of the observer, and the perception of reality through a lense, or a pane of glass, which for me, is language, or at least consciousness.

Is reality the product of nature or culture? or is it a projection by the self, as Buddhism posits?

Jul 17, 2009, 12:33pm


I have been meaning to ask for some time, who is the artist of the mezzotint in your first post. Do you have any lists for websites featuring mezzotints. What about reliable sellers of mezzotints?

Jul 17, 2009, 1:11pm

You give me altogether too much credit in believing I could come up with the concepts in 26 + 27. These are Martens' ideas as paraphrased and interpreted by me.

However, I agree it is most interesting. I have been using it in all sorts of situations recently.

And as you alluded to in your last sentence, the nature of reality could indeed be looked at this way.

Do we actually perceive the reality of things as A, A1, B1 or a mixture of all 3? And when you add in Martens view about A always being both more powerful, and fundamentally unknowable in any direct sense, it makes for quite a heady brew.

Editado: Jul 17, 2009, 1:35pm

Hi Urania

I am afraid my knowledge of mezzotints does not match my appreciation of them, so I cannot give you any useful answers.

However, the mezzotint at the head of this thread is Sunshine Falling on a Door by Peter Ilsted, an early 20th century artist.

I like his pieces because they link back to the feel of Vermeer.

Here is another work by him:

Jul 18, 2009, 9:23am

"Perhaps all that is left of the world is a wasteland covered with rubbish heaps, and the hanging garden of the Great Khan's palace. It is our eyelids that separate them, but we cannot know which is inside and which outside."

Marco Polo to Kublai Khan, Invisible Cities

Jul 18, 2009, 12:35pm

Kafka was well acquainted with the Viennese mileu (Schnitzler, Freud, Hofmannsthal, and Musil) to which Martens refers. He was also well acquainted with Nietzsche, who appeared to have had an effect of varying degrees of profundity on all of these writers.

For Martens, Kafka differs from these other writers in two important ways:

i) as opposed to using as an authority an impersonal narrator above the fray, he considers, almost without exception, only the perspective of the main character, a technique which "... lends his stories an unprecedented obscurity."
ii) he seems to be parodying the use of dualities. Whereas his Viennese contemporaries "... see the world as governed by two terms both of which are real, Kafka affirms only the term occupied by the subject, setting up the unknown or 'dark' term merely as an elusive, infinitely receding, unattainable goal."

Kafka therefore appears to doubt the possibility of any transfer of information from A to B:

"Whereas Freud optimistically supposed that the inquiring analyst can see through the distorting form to grasp the latent content of the wish", and where, as we have seen, Musil saw the hidden content as important, although difficult to reach, and confusing, "Kafka seems to be parodying the idea of content. The story (An Imperial Message) suggests that there is no content at all, but merely forms of thought."

So, in Kafka's view, A and A1 are each no more than a "... complicated, far-flung construction of B."

Jul 19, 2009, 10:19am

oh well, this is totally Buddhist. It's interesting that you bring in Calvino as well, coz he also has very strong Buddhist overtones.

The Martens books sounds excellent, Zeno, I must try to get hold of it.

More Ilsted here. I love them. Vermeer meets Karl Larssen.

Editado: Jul 23, 2009, 7:18am

Walter Benjamin on Kafka:

Kafka's perception of the present day world in which he lived was 'conveyed' to him by mystical experience,

"... in particular, the experience of tradition."

Thus, one facet of Kafka's writing involves:

"... the rumour about the true things (a sort of theological whispered intelligence dealing with matters discredited and obsolete)."

Whereas most modern followers of traditional wisdoms try to stick to the 'truths' as they understand them, they must abandon the consistency of vision which of necessity atomises as the 'truths' become diverse and complicated just as modern life experience becomes diverse and complicated.

Kafka's uniqueness here, in Benjamin's mind, comes from the fact that he foregoes the specific 'truths' in order to retain the consistency of vision.

Like Musil, Kafka believes the mystical experience to be an important ingredient in one's world view. Although Musil was cynical about our ability to break through to understand A, he was nevertheless sure that we could use mystical experience - but significantly he saw this experience as scientifically explainable - it was a process that happened within us, whereby B became B1 for a moment and saw things in a different way.

I now need to understand how Kafka felt about all this. Significant in this, to me at least, is why do certain Kafka readers laugh out loud at his writings (to the chagrin of those who see him as the arch melancholic)? I class myself in the former group - Kafka has always been amusing to me - in a liberating way that very few others have been. I need to understand this more as well.

I read somewhere quite recently that Kafka often burst into laughter when reading his stories out loud to friends and family. I am sure it was something to do with a certain way of looking at the world - a certain understanding about the ultimate futility of our quest, which in its absurdity was one of the most deeply amusing things to understand.

To be explored further.

Editado: Jul 23, 2009, 7:24am

Pieta, or Revolution by Night - by Max Ernst.

This is the closest visual equivalent to a Kafka story, and richly amusing to me in the same way as Kafka's tales.

Editado: Jul 23, 2009, 10:50am

z -
I have also remarked on Kafka's humor, here in my blog, and probably also somewhere on LT. I must have read the same source as you about his reading his works aloud. To me, the humor comes from actually visualizing what Kafka writes.

You can see it in the dance of Josef K with his guards on the way to the quarry. They intertwine their arms, stiffly, straight-out and downward, and march off in unison. When K decides to stop, the guards are powerless to force him, in this tightly-knit configuration, to go on--no leverage! It plays like a scene from the keystone kops.

Or visualize the scene where Gregor, in Metamorphosis, emerges from his room and frightens the head clerk, who then stumbles out of the apartment and flees down the stairs. Gregor, with his immense self-identity as a human, doesn't relate the clerk's actions to his own horrific external appearance, but just reports the scene matter-of-factly, from his human point of view. The absurdity of this scene is laugh-out-loud funny, if you don't let the conventional preconceptions of Kafka get in the way.

I recently remarked to a friend about Kafka's humor. She didn't see it herself, but admitted that it must be weird, if it existed at all. Well, it's not weird, or twisted. It's just funny, but you have to have cleared out all your preconceptions to realize it. Kafka speaks directly to the human condition, and if that's not funny, nothing is.

ETA some minor grammatical corrections.

Jul 23, 2009, 4:33pm

Wilf - nice blog, liked the Melville Camus piece as well. There must be a Camus Kafka connection somewhere...?

I need to think further about all these things, your blog is food for thought, and happily Benjamin is also a good source of ideas.

I'm glad I have another source for Kafka's laughing.

Jul 23, 2009, 5:12pm

And czech in with polutropos who also has had a good laugh with Kafka.

Jul 31, 2009, 12:55am

Kafka also makes me howl. I feel a ludic response to the human condition is ultimately more profound than all that Nietzschean brow beating.

Wilf, your reading of Kafka reminds me very much of Schweik.

Zeno, I thought you might be interested in these two articles on Berlin in the TLS...



Jul 31, 2009, 5:22pm

Thanks for the links.

I have been sitting in blzaing heat on various beaches this last week reading more of Russian Thinkers, and yesterday re read 'The Hedgehog and the Fox', so these were quite apposite.

Ago 5, 2009, 6:24am

Do Tolstoy and Kafka see things in fundamentally the same way?

Benjamin on Kafka:

1. Kafka had a vision outside of the everyday "... he perceives what was to come without perceiving what exists in the present...."
2. and he knew implicitly of the ancient wisdom and tradition: "... his experience was based solely on the tradition to which Kafka surrendered."
3. Thus "... the rumour about the true things (a sort of theological whispered intelligence dealing with matters discredited and obsolete)" a line of thought and knowledge which operated outside of the rational, the everyday, the scientific.

Berlin on Tolstoy:

1. the world is fundamentally unknowable and deterministic
2. science can discover and measure certain things on the surface of existence, but it cannot measure the depths where "... we are immersed and submerged in a medium that, precisely to the degree to which we inevitably take it for granted as part of ourselves, we do not and cannot observe as if from the outside...."
3. This is the world in which traditional wisdom operates, a world which we cannot pierce or manipulate. The best we can do is to understand that it exists, without challenging it or seeking to dominate it.
4. This traditional wisdom is, in Berlin's stating of Tolstoy's view, "... a special subjectiveness to the contours of circumstances in which we happen to be placed; it is living without falling foul of some permanent condition or factor which cannot be either altered, or even fully described or calculated, an ability to be guided by the rules of thumb - the 'immemorial wisdom' said to reside in peasants and other 'simple folk' - where rules of science do not, in principle, apply."

This last passage actually feels like a synopsis from a Kafka story. Only it is most everyone apart from Kafka's 'hero'/narrator who appear to understand that this is how the world works.

Ago 5, 2009, 6:36am

By this reading of things, both Kafka and Tolstoy believe in A and perhaps see knowledge of it as being fed by A1 which is some kind of wisdom built up over time by those who don't seek to challenge or dominate reality.

There is another unknown which is a kind of B-1 a known which is yet to be discovered. This is the realm of the rational and scientific where discoveries can be made.

But in making such discoveries we think we are piercing A. We are not, we are merely finding B-1 which is only surface knowledge.

Tolstoy's unending wish to find a 'hedgehog' solution to provide a unifying vision of the whole, and Kafka's world of endless mental labyrinthes in the protaganist's mind, are perhaps their individual ways of attempting to deal with this fundamentally absurd and unbroachable reality (as they see it).

Ago 7, 2009, 2:22pm

Summer intermission,

Entertainment on a budget:


Ago 7, 2009, 5:44pm

And if I might push the boundaries:


Ago 7, 2009, 10:41pm

Zeno, your comparison of Kafka and Tolstoy is very illuminating and fruitful. I had never considered them together before, but I can now see similarities.

Ago 11, 2009, 10:27am

Murr, yes, I think there might be something there.

I feel like I have reached a natural plateau at this point, where I can take a breather. So over the next couple of weeks I am keeping away from too much thinking. Back soon, maybe looking further at 'the unknown' in terms of Jung, Pater, William James......

Ago 20, 2009, 6:54am

ooooh good. looking forward to that!

Ago 21, 2009, 8:40am

Camus' view on Kafka can be found in his essay 'Hope and The Absurd in the Work of Franz Kafka'.

Camus argues that while Kafka sees the fundamental absurdity of existence ("I recognize here a work that is absurd in its principles"), he (Kafka) also sees hope:

"The word 'hope' used here is not ridiculous. On the contrary, the more tragic the condition described by Kafka, the firmer and more aggressive that hope becomes....we find here again in a pure state the paradox of existential thought as it is expressed, for instance, by Kierkegaard: 'Earthly hope must be killed; only then can one be saved by true hope'".

Thus The trial sets up and extinguishes an earth bound answer to the protaganist's problem, but The castle illustrates a way forward.

This way is through a relationship with the divine and eternal, but a rather abstract and obscure one. In The castle the protagonist "...tries to recapture God through what negates him, to recognize him, not according to our categories of goodness and beauty but behind the empty and hideous aspects of his indifference, of his injustice, and of his hatred."

Camus, at a later point, adds: "Kafka refuses his god moral nobility, evidence, virtue, coherence, but only the better to fall into his arms. The absurd is recognized, accepted, and man is resigned to it, but from then on we know that it has ceased to be the absurd."

Ago 21, 2009, 9:13am

So if we compare Camus' view with that outlined in message 48, then we see that for Camus, while Kafka does see the absurdity, he finds a kind of hope too, by recognizing, accepting, and moving on with a new freedom, because of this acceptance.

This is in contrast to Tolstoy whom, one suspects, was too much of a realist to see true hope from such metaphysical speculation.

Ago 21, 2009, 11:13am

Well, I must say that I'm kind of with Tolstoy on that.

But I need to give this more thought. I need to work out how Theravada Buddhism fits into all this. On one level I see parallels, but I suspect that Buddhism goes beyond hope for a true unbinding.

Zeno, are you (is Camus) saying, then, in >55 zenomax:, that, for Kafka, the absurd becomes God/God becomes the absurd? is that right, and if so, is there a difference?

Ago 21, 2009, 11:15am

Kafka: the absurd becomes God
Keirkegaard: God becomes the absurd


Ago 26, 2009, 2:01pm

Zeno - thanks for bringing up The Castle. I had put it aside because of its sterile writing style, at least in the Harmon translation.

Camus must have read the version edited by Max Brod, based on his references to theology and grace. I see no religious subtext in my reading of the Harmon translation, which is based on scholarship completed after Camus' death and which includes the restored ending that Brod had removed. The Barnabas story is not "placed at the end of the book" in this version.

Rather than a theological theme of salvation, I see an existential hero in the Surveyor K., who contrasts with the existential tragedy of Josef K. in The Trial. Josef K. contends with an extra-judicial system run by unseen people according to impenetrable rules. The rules laid down by the officials of the Castle are similarly impenetrable. Josef K. never understands the system, never takes the advice of those who know the system better than he, and eventually succumbs to the verdict of the system. True, as Camus states, Josef K. "does not neglect to love to eat, or to read his paper." But he does not take charge of his life, things happen to him, he lives passively like a dog and as he dies, he says, enigmatically, "Like a dog." He could have lived out his life like a human if he had faced the existential question facing him on his thirtieth birthday, but he did not.

Surveyor K., on the other hand, constantly probes the system. He learns from each person he contacts, judges the worth of the information, and makes his next move with greater knowledge. He begins his stay at the village precariously, with no job, no residence, with every possibility of dying in the snow. His reasoning keeps him going, attacking the uncertainty in the operant rules of order. Josef K. quietly went with his jailors to his death. K. rejected interrogation by the official, Momus, and suffered no harm.

At the end K. is secure, not because of his reasoning but because of the vagaries of the system. In the restored ending, K. has an interview with two officials, Bürgel and Erlanger. From these association he gains enormous respect in the village. But what of these interviews? He was mostly asleep when with Bürgel and Erlanger just passed along a request to reinstate Frieda as barmaid (which was already accomplished, but beyond the control of K.).

So Kafka does offer hope through K., but I say we can also derive hope from Josef K. That is, don't be a nebbish, take charge of your life, make it yours, be responsible for it. This is the hope that Camus asserts in The Myth of Sisyphus, though it seems obscured in Hope and the Absurd in the Work of Franz Kafka.

Editado: Sep 4, 2009, 2:19pm

Murr & Wilf, thanks for your thoughts.

Murr, I like your encapsulation in 58. I think that is close to Camus' view of Kafka.

Wilf, Camus states that his views are '...obviously true of the unfinished version of The Castle which Kafka left us.' If further work has provided the intended ending then obviously Camus may have reinterpreted.

However, I can't help but draw comparisons between Camus' view of an absurdist god figure with Benjamin's view of Kafka's reliance on an old wisdom,"... the rumour about the true things (a sort of theological whispered intelligence dealing with matters discredited and obsolete)" a line of thought and knowledge which operated outside of the rational, the everyday, the scientific. See #48.

The similarity between the two views is of a power which is beyond the rational. The difference is that Camus adds a view that Kafka ekes a kind of hope from this situation.

If we go back to #38, Martens has a rrelated but alternative take:

Whereas his Viennese contemporaries "... see the world as governed by two terms both of which are real, Kafka affirms only the term occupied by the subject, setting up the unknown or 'dark' term merely as an elusive, infinitely receding, unattainable goal."

Here, Kafka sees the reality which others have not grasped. Everything is subjective, a projection by each individual of the world, which can neither be proven or disproven by any outside, objective agency. This is a view I am quite comfortable with. The question is, should this lead one to despair, to surreal humour, or to hope? Or perhaps to acceptance that that is how it is.

Editado: Sep 11, 2009, 2:04pm

Msr. P

Sep 11, 2009, 4:50pm

"Life is an experimental journey that we make involuntarily. It is a journey of the mind through matter, and since it is the mind that journeys, that is where we live."


Oh dear, another 99 percenter.

Sep 11, 2009, 5:30pm

#61: Did you end up going with the Penguin translations? (I spied your thread in the Proust group.) Out of the bunch, I thought that Lydia Davis's Swann's Way was especially smooth and beautiful.

Sep 11, 2009, 5:45pm

No, I went with the Enright translations in Everyman Classics Hardback (4 large volumes instead of numerous paperbacks).

The translation thread was informative, but inconclusive so I went for look and longevity!

However, I would like to read the Lydia Davis book for comparison at some stage, given the enthusiastic views of many here.

Sep 11, 2009, 5:54pm

Ah! I'm planning on a reread with the Salon folks in June, and I think I'll do Enright then. I ended up buying the Modern Library hardbacks, 6 volumes, because I wanted that index that Kilmartin created. (I shouldn't have done it, though, I hardly have space for my books as it is, and those 6 volumes are currently residing in a plastic bag in the corner of my bedroom.)

Sep 11, 2009, 8:27pm

Everything is subjective, a projection by each individual of the world, which can neither be proven or disproven by any outside, objective agency.

Mmm. This is very close to my own view of things. And Theravada, again.

Sep 11, 2009, 8:28pm

Regarding Msr. P, do you two think the Moncrieff/Kilmartin version is not good?

Sep 11, 2009, 9:23pm

#67: My experience with the M/K version is limited to some browsing & comparing in the bookstore once. I ended up settling on Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright as my second translation largely because of some things I'd read that made Kilmartin sound like something of a stepping-stone. Roger Shattuck, for example, says that Enright had benefitted from the critical articles that came about after Kilmartin's revision, that Enright had fixed some further errors and misreadings. I also know that Enright's version was influenced by the final, definitive Pléiade edition that was published in '87, though I don't have any detailed knowledge of what changes he might have made. And I read somewhere that Kilmartin himself felt that his version needed further revising.

All that being said, I flipped through M/K and M/K/E in the bookstore, and I found virtually no differences (I do appreciate Enright's changing the titles). I doubt that it would be worth replacing your M/K with the Enright. (Adding the Penguin translations to your library, however, would most definitely be worth it, as they offer a substantially different experience.)

Sep 11, 2009, 9:27pm

The Penguin ones are the multi-translatored ones, aren't they?

Yes, I thought about adding those.

Sep 11, 2009, 9:45pm

Yep, those are the ones.

Sep 18, 2009, 1:22pm

Walter Benjamin is in the chair:

"The thirteen volumes of Marcel Proust's 'A la Recherche du temps perdu' are the result of an unconstruable synthesis in which the absorption of a mystic, the art of a prose writer, the verve of a satirist, the erudition of a scholar, and the self-consciousness of a monomaniac have combined in an autobiographical work."

This, then, is what we are to deal with.

Editado: Sep 18, 2009, 1:54pm

Benjamin believes Proust operated under a 'hopeless sadness', and credits Jean Cocteau as being the one critic who recognized 'Proust's blind, senseless, frenzied quest for happiness.'

As a result of this, Benjamin believes that Proust had a profound will to happiness, part of which found form in his works as "...the eternal repetition, the eternal restoration of the original, the first happiness."

Is there a relationship here between Proust's evocation of his memories and Pessoa's evocation of the absurd?


"The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd: the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world's existence."

Sep 26, 2009, 12:10pm

Este mensaje fue borrado por su autor.

Editado: Nov 29, 2009, 4:32am

Where I do my thinking.

Editado: Sep 26, 2009, 2:28pm

Camus, speaking of Husserl and the phenomenologists:

They " reinstate the world in its diversity and deny the transcendent power of the reason. The spiritual universe becomes incalculably enriched through them. The rose petal, the milestone, or the human hand are as important as love, desire, or the laws of gravity. Thinking ceases to be unifying or making a semblance familiar in the guise of a major principle. Thinking is learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment."

Editado: Sep 26, 2009, 2:30pm

Just as Musil and Freud used the interface between the known (B) and the unknown (A), with an emissary between the two (either A1 or B1), as key features in their works, Proust seems to use the past as his unknown. It arrives via an emissary, either dreams or reverie (conceivably A1) or as an imagined or ideal projection (B1).

As we recall from earlier, Musil in particular saw inner visions as a biological process: "...not glimpses into another world but another way of seeing this one". Could not Proust's memories be part of this same process? Or are they closer in nature to Pater's view that the inner vision is a privileged moment, an epiphany that arrives from a momentary expansion of one's consciousness?

I think it is almost time to look at Pater and at William James, two 19th century thinkers who may shed more light on Proust.

Sep 27, 2009, 11:49pm

>74 zenomax: Wow!~ where is that? That's beautiful!!!!!!!

Great Camus quote. Looking forward to more on Pater and Wiliam James, two heros of mine.

Sep 28, 2009, 3:43am

The grounds of Stowe Gardens and Stowe School - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stowe_House.

I go walking there for an hour every week.

Editado: Oct 2, 2009, 4:15am

"Baudelaire does not give us a lifelike representation of objects; he is more concerned to steep the image in memory than to embellish or portray it."

Paul Desjardins quoted in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project.

Given their similar ways, it is not surprising that Proust was drawn to Baudelaire. Benjamin qoutes from an article written by Proust:

"I have not had time to speak here of the part played in Baudelaire's work by ancient cities, or of the scarlet note they strike, here and there, in the fabric of his poetry."

A wonderful sentence, suggesting Proust's innate connection with B. and illustrating (even in translation) P's superb evocation of language and image.

Oct 3, 2009, 7:20am

"The verse can only communicate as a secret everybody already knows, or as an allusion to a body of knowledge the singer knows can never be recovered, and Ashley only makes things worse by singing as if whatever he's singing about is the most obvious thing in the world."

Greil Marcus on "The Coo Coo Bird", as sung by Clarence Ashley.

Oct 3, 2009, 7:24am

So it comes back again to "... the rumour about the true things (a sort of theological whispered intelligence dealing with matters discredited and obsolete)"

Editado: Oct 3, 2009, 10:31am

Just caught up on beautiful Stowe, Camus quote, interfaces of past and present and Proust on Baudelaire -- very enjoyable. As to the Ashley business I have soemtimes wondered if people do sometimes behave as if things are quite obvious, hiding the utter confusion of the wholly unique nature of each individual understanding, that no one quite ever gets to recognise(?)

and does that take me to your final post?

Does Camus just mean French phenomenologists?


Oct 4, 2009, 11:11am

>79 zenomax: Wonderful post. Super quotes from Benjamin and Proust there. I have this very interesting edition of Baudelaire in English. I'm going to dig it out now and have a read.

So Zeno, does the quote in 81 refer us back to A1 in post 26, do you think? (who is that quote by in 81?)

Oct 6, 2009, 3:32pm

#82 nice to hear from you Tony.

You pose a nice question about the uniqueness of each individual's understanding. This is something I have often thought of - Jung had some interesting things to say about personality types in this regard (not surprising - he had interesting things to say about many things)

You have me on the question on phenomenologists - I don't have enough knowledge of them to make the distinction. Could you elaborate?

#83 Murr the quote in 81 is from Benjamin. He is talking about Kafka. And yes, it does seem to connect to A1. There seems to be a link between this quote and Tolstoy's peasant wisdom, and Freud's dreams and Musil's inward - facing thoughts.

I read somewhere that Benjamin, although a Marxist, appeared to be more influenced by kabbalistic and other mystical Jewish thought in his writings. This sentence seems to confirm that.

Editado: Oct 6, 2009, 3:53pm

It appears that P was an afficionado of photography.

One writer has drawn a connection between the photographic and Proustian worlds.

" Has the analogy been drawn between Proust's innovative narrative techniques - changes in perspective and of optical angle - and those which the universe of photography afforded him?"

"...in his battle against Time, that enemy of our precarious existence, ever on the offensive though never openly so, it was in photography, also born of an age old longing to halt the moment, to wrest it from the flux of 'duree' in order to 'fix' it forever in a semblance of eternity, that Proust found his best ally."

Editado: Oct 8, 2009, 5:17pm

#82 I always think of Heidegger as a phenomenologist (among other things) and yet often its the French names that get mentioned, I suppose I think of him as he was the first I ran across, probably a purely idiosyncratic mental tic of mine to always wonder if people are including him.

I have a little awareness of Jung, often liking him ( a favourite axiom was his observation that 'if you are depressed you are too high up in your own mind') -- but I am cautious about personality types. I suppose it runs against my desire to recognise uniqueness....and thats a tension I feel a lot (with diagnosis too).

Edit -- #85 -- do you know the photography of Lartigue?

Edit Edit - I hope its not too basic a question!

Oct 8, 2009, 4:58pm

Tony - I have had a fixation on Lartigue and Atget after viewing a series on photography on the BBC a year or two ago.

I have invested in a Taschen edition of Atget (love it, could look at each image for an hour), but haven't yet come across a Lartigue book.

Oct 8, 2009, 6:11pm

"They say that Crazy Horse had the ability to dream himself into the real world and leave the illiusion behind."

- The Legend of Crazy Horse, J D Blackfoot

Oct 8, 2009, 9:38pm

can you post some of these photographs you are looking at? I'd love to see them.

Tony, that quote from Jung is very profound: 'if you are depressed you are too high up in your own mind' It seems to me that depression is the result of a pathologically foregrounded consciousness, something Dostoevsky was very aware of in The Double and Notes from Underground.

Oct 9, 2009, 6:08pm


Atget biography and link to photos (look closely at these - as often as not what looks to be a still life has people in, as blurs in the distance or as curiosities peering from behind glass panes or over balconies).

I like the biographical detail on this site too - particularly the quote that he was "... a Balzac of the camera..." Quite appropriate I think.

Oct 9, 2009, 6:19pm

Interestingly neither L nor A were seen as photographers in the artistic sense in their lifetime.

L was a true amateur, taking photos for enjoyment. Atget declared himself to be a jobbing photographer, a functional artisan, the exact opposite one would think from a visionary.

He kept his personal vision tightly held to a few friends and collectors, although he set out most days with his cart and (even then) old fashioned equipment, taking numberless images over the days, weeks, months, years...

Oct 10, 2009, 3:26am

I don't know of Atget at all Zeno -- thanks! Will look asap.

I love Lartigue's work -- a true amateur, self taught I think from an early age, a pioneer like the pioneers of cars and motorbikes and planes that he often photographed. My favourite is the self portrait he took in the bath, he looks about 10 years old - fantastic. I think he was recognised towards the end of his life due to a chance meeting with a publisher on a plane.

tomcat - the site zeno linke dto is good -- but you'll get more if you google image his name, well worth it I think!

Oct 10, 2009, 4:53am

I'm enjoying both sites very much: a new discovery for me!!!!! I can totally see the connection with Proust. Not only do they show Proust's world, but they also freeze historical memories. Very moving.

Oct 10, 2009, 9:30am

The Folio Society makes a lovely edition of In Search of Lost Time with photographs by Atget. I saw a used set at Strand recently but couldn't justify shelling out $150 for it.

Oct 11, 2009, 7:47am

Thanks Medellia, I know of the Folio set, but hadn't realised it was populated with Atget images. Almost too good to be true.....

Oct 11, 2009, 1:39pm

In the case of Atget I have not been surprised to find that, once again, Walter Benjamin has been there first with his interpretation.

Benjamin argues that Atget photographed empty, or near deserted streets in order to establish the evidence - as if they were recent crime scenes. By eliminating the human element, or at least relegating it to an almost hidden subtext, A appeared to be taking an outsider's view of Paris, a city built by and inhabited by the human race, but with an existence external to it.

Thanks to Tony for bringing up Lartigue, for L and A both have applicability to my meanderings here.

Oct 12, 2009, 1:35pm

Its been a very interesting discussion -- what a volume fo Proust that Folio society item looks, will save it for when I have a dedicated library in a mansion.

And tomcat, I saw what you said about the Jung quote (which I hope I am accurate about) and that idea of foregrounding is interesting. But it also leads me to also reflect that there is also evidence that depressed people may actually see the world very realistically - and so support may help them to make change to it and diiscover new ways of seeing options (and sometimes seeing other interpretations of how things are). But thats putting it very simplistically - but something I try to remember when meeting a depressed person.

Oct 12, 2009, 5:46pm

Currently watching Tarkovsky's movie Stalker, whilst reading Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal (and occasionally dipping into LT). Who says we chaps cannot multitask?

Nothing seems quite real tonight.

Oct 12, 2009, 10:50pm

>99 zenomax: I have to get a copy of Stalker, saw it a few years ago in a Russian film festival. It's on my Amazon wish list, but I've been checking out a few scenes from YouTube today.

Oct 13, 2009, 11:38am

it's an incredible good movie...

Tony, I agree, and honestly, I find that depression is like looking through the veil of Maya to the reality of things. Not a pretty sight at all.

I am still enjoying these Atget pictures very much.

Oct 13, 2009, 4:35pm

Another quote I like from the Atget site (named in 91) from another great, Ansel Adams. Talking of Atget only a handful of years after his death in 1927:

" The Atget prints are direct and emotionally clean records of a rare and subtle perception, and represent perhaps the earliest expression of true photographic art."

Oct 22, 2009, 5:16pm

Reading P puts me in mind of Balzac.

Balzac, as my dear readers may remember, allowed me something of a revelation. To repeat my thoughts from #3:

Balzac understands how the world works.


- ideology does not tell us anything about the world. It influences how people act, but it has no reality other than that. Instead, existence and events are governed by a series of minute connections, multiplied into infinity.

Thus, as these minute details become joined and conjoined and built up - into the world, the universe, the sum of human relations - they reach a level which can no longer be explained unless we isolate and understand each of the minute details. This is an impossible task. Therefore, logically, the world cannot be understood.

All that we can usefully do is understand each interaction, no matter how small, and weave it into a narrative.

The narrative therefore becomes the de facto explanation

Now, in the writing of Msr P., it appears to me that everything exists according to its true nature, a nature not dissimilar from that which followers of that ancient wisdom - which Berlin attributes to Tolstoy, and which Benjamin likewise attributes to Kafka - may have understood very well.

Thus, things are not understood according to a grand plan or set of rules. Life is too complex and the interconnections too vast and multifarious in number. (Here Balzac would argue we understand instead the interactions within our orbit and weave them into a narrative that 'explains' the time and place).

For P the best that can be done is to understand the hidden meanings behind things, their true natures, through allegorical mirrors and oblique descriptions, which reflect the way things really feel to us.

Through imagery and memory rather than through statements of fact do we get to see, as if through an inverted microscope, a small distant chink of distorted light.

Oct 22, 2009, 5:35pm

I wonder whether the key split is not between the fox and hedgehog, but between the seeker of knowledge and the sanguine recipient of wisdom.

Do P & B tap into an ancient stream of innate acceptance of the way things are? And if they do, are they alone in seeing that this actually gives a freedom to delve deeper into how things are the way they are? In other words, we may not be able to get to an ideal world of peace and harmony, but instead let us understand that there is more to an everyday object or interaction or thought or dream than just the statement of it in factual prose. There is indeed more things in heaven and earth to celebrate.

The famous example of P's madeleine comes to mind here.

... I place in position before my mind's eye the still recent taste of that first mouthful, and I feel something start within me, something that leaves its resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been anchored at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed."

Oct 28, 2009, 4:14am

Whilst boating on the Broads these past few days I have been reading up on Leszek Kolakowski, the Polish philosopher.

It was he who coined the Law of the Infinite Cornucopia. "This states that there is never a shortage of arguments to support whatever doctrine you want to believe in for whatever reasons." (This definition comes from Timothy Garton Ash).

K. has a penchant for quotable knife - turning phrases. Here are some others:

"And thus Prometheus awakens from his dream of power, as ignominiously as Gregor Samsa in Kafka's The Metamorphosis." (in reference to the emergence of Stalinism out of Marxism)

"A modern philosopher who has never once suspected himself of being a charlatan must be such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading."

"The self-deification of mankind, to which Marxism gave philosophical expression, has ended in the same way as all such attempts, whether individual or collective: it has revealed itself as the farcical aspect of human bondage." (not too far away from Berlin's views of those who seek to promote a set of ideals for mankind).

K. appears to be alive and still teaching at Oxford (where he has taught for almost 40 years). I am in Oxford today - maybe I should drop in and ask to see him....!!

Editado: Oct 28, 2009, 4:52am

"Winter is by far the oldest of the seasons". Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space.

Oct 29, 2009, 6:55am

It seems that this is becoming very conservative in outlook - is no progress possible in this world?

If that great hope of the 20th century, Marxism, was a monster in disguise, where do we go next? Is progress an illusion in all but the scientific sense (new vaccines, new sources of power generation), and is even this ultimately an illusion of progress?

Should we look only inwards, a la Proust, in order to deal with it all?

Editado: Nov 2, 2009, 6:06pm

Time for another mezzotint..

John Martin, Fall of Babylon, 1835.

Editado: Nov 2, 2009, 6:07pm

Atget produced some more 'political' images of the ragpickers and other outliers of Paris...

If we are to be conservative in outlook, at least let us be conservative in the way a quiet anarchist is conservative.... not really conservative at all inside.

Oct 30, 2009, 2:16pm

It strikes me that possibly my two favourite artists of the 20th century, Atget and Schwitters, were rather alike in outlook. For they, more than any other, captured the onset of the post industrial. The known vs. unknown, the outsider vs. conventional society, the beauty of the everyday and functional juxtaposed with the unsettling effects of being set slightly out of context.

The realisation that the modern world means living in a complicated but fundamentally unknowable universe.

Nov 1, 2009, 5:32am

"The world ... lives on itself: its excrements are its nourishment."

Nietzsche, quoted in Benjamin, The Arcades Project.

Although no doubt meant as an aphorism, this is, in point of fact, not too far from a literal description of the way the world/universe works when taken from a systems/entropy viewpoint.

Nov 1, 2009, 5:39am

>105 zenomax: boating on the Broads, how lovely! I did that once and had a super time. Do you know Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazon books, a few of which are set on the Broads?

Your thread leaves me breathless, Zeno. I need to step back and think.

Nov 2, 2009, 5:10am

>105 zenomax: "A modern philosopher who has never once suspected himself of being a charlatan must be such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading."

This is excellent, and is a nifty little tool for once and all demolishing such psuedos as Kahlil Gibran, Paulo Ceolho (spelling? do we care?) and Ayn Rand. I definitely want to read Kolakowski.

Zeno, can you enlarge the pictures? I'd like to get a closer look at them.

Editado: Nov 2, 2009, 6:18pm

tcM you are stretching my technical abilities to their limit, but I think I have managed to enlarge the last 2 pictorial entries.

I have not read Swallows & Amazons - should I? I do have a soft spot for childrens writing by middle aged Britsh men (Milne, Carroll...)

Parts of the mezzotint seem almost Blakean to me - dark satanic mills and beings or phenomena flying through the air.

Atget did a series of photos on ragpickers living precariously on the edges of the city and another on prostitutes in the very stomach of the city.

Nov 2, 2009, 6:20pm

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

Nov 3, 2009, 8:11am

oh yes, that's great! the mezzotint reminds me strongly of Delacroix's Death of Sardanapolus. Amazing!

if you like children's books by middle aged Englishmen, and are nostalgic, and love messing about in boats on the Broads, you must read them!!!

if I remember rightly the ones set in Norfolk are:

Peter Duck
Coot Club
Secret Water
The Big Six

Also, Missee Lee is set in the Taiwan archipelago!!!

Nov 3, 2009, 4:45pm

For we are the little folk - we!
Too little to love or to hate
Leave us alone and you'll see
That we can bring down the state

The Pict Song

Nov 4, 2009, 2:14pm

William James, philosopher and psychologist, also inherited his fathers great interest in religion. His father, Henry James, was a follower of the ideas of Swedenborg, the 18th century christian mystic and scientist.

So WJ had a tradition of science and mysticism behind him.

Unsurprisingly, amongst multifarious interests, he had a particular interest in the concepts of mysticism and religious experience. In his later works James suggests either a 'finite God' or a 'mother sea of consciousness' as potential replacements for the traditional view of an Absolute god figure. It is in these writings that James begins to find common cause with Jung, a few generations behind him. Jung, of course, in what has been one of the key themes behind this thread, proposed that, in addition to the individual conscious and subconscious, there was a collective subconscious which linked all of humanity (or maybe all of life on earth) together.

Jung, like James, was influenced by Swedenborg, and all three appear to have that odd but interesting mix of science/rationalism and mysticism in them.

Editado: Nov 4, 2009, 2:21pm

"... if we look on man's whole mental life as it exists, on the life of men that lies in them apart from their learning and science, and that they inwardly and privately follow, we have to confess that the part of it of which rationalism can give an account is relatively superficial."

The Varities of Religious Experience.

This again harks back to the Balzac, Berlin, Benjaimn axis that the world cannot be known or controlled in any real way, the possible causal links are too great in number and the connections between each too intricate.

Nov 7, 2009, 1:29pm

the Varieties of Religious Experience is a very good book, maybe the one that led to the characterization of William and Henry James as the Psychologist who wrote like a novelist, and the novelist who wrote like a psychologist - that was the gist of it, though I probably mis-worded it.

Nov 7, 2009, 4:29pm

So WJ = a mother sea of consciousness
Jung = collective subconscious
Pater = the privileged moment (a momentary expansion of consciousness)
More recently, from a scientific perspective, Rupert Sheldrake has revived the Lamarckist view of life on earth (the original version of which was wiped away by Darwin's theory of evolution) with his theory of morphic resonance.

Musil, on the other hand, sees the whole thing as a biological function, a response to inwardly directed feelings resulting from stimuli from within as opposed to without.

Nov 7, 2009, 4:34pm

120 - solla - your characterisation rings true. Obviously a talented family.

Nov 7, 2009, 4:57pm

The school of phenomenology came up with the idea that things have 2 perceptible parts, the actual instance of (say) the redness of a red snooker ball, and a parallel universal perception of what a red snooker ball is. Thus if we look at different images of red snooker balls in different lights and shades, or close up versus far away, we always mediate the actual instance of the red snooker ball we are looking at with the universal image of red snooker balls (which allow us to judge the look of the image regardless of if it is in the shade or in extreme close up). This latter perception the phenomenologists called 'eidetic intuition',and "By means of eidetic intuition we have knowledge of the essential features of the world."

Now it could be asked does eidetic intuition have any links with the collective subconscious, or the mother sea of James. To get to an essence of an object, we tap into a universal (?) perception using eidetic intuition. Where exactly does this come from?

I do not know enough about phenomenology to comment further a this stage.

By the way Musil studied psychology and was aware of and influenced by the phenomenologists.

Nov 7, 2009, 5:03pm

" All moral propositions refer to a sort of dream condition that's long ago taken wing and flown away out of the cage of rules in which we try to hold it fast."

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities

Editado: Nov 7, 2009, 5:16pm

Now, in a completely different vein of thought:

"Being as chaste as paper, as sober as water, as devout as a woman at Holy Communion, as harmless as a sacrificial lamb, I would not be displeased to be taken for a lecher, a drunkard, an infidel, a murderer."

Baudelaire, 'Studies for a preface to Les Fleurs du mal', quoted in Benjamin, The Arcades Project.

Nov 8, 2009, 8:54am

"The world of Baudelaire is a strange sectioning of time in which only the red-letter days can appear...."

Proust, "A Propos de Baudelaire", in Benjamin, The Arcades Project.

Editado: Nov 8, 2009, 9:26am

"Les geographies solennelles des limites humaines..."

("The solemn geographies of human limits"), Paul Eluard.
From The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard.

Bachelard looks at the ways we experience intimate spaces.

On 'the dialiectics of outside and inside':

"But how many daydreams we should have to analyze under the simple heading of Doors! For the door is an entire cosmos of the Half-open. In fact, it is one of the primal images.... At times, it is closed, bolted, padlocked. At others, it is open, that is to say, wide open."

This reminds me of a couple of Atget images - one of a closed, railed gate with an unkempt park landscape visible through the far side, the other in the image here of a chateau gate, half ajar.

If doors are the stuff of daydreams, gates seem to be invitations to cross the border between the known and unknown. These 2 concepts were at the height of their intellectual popularity when Atget was at his business. We have, to my knowledge, little explanation from Atget as to what he was seeking to achieve. He was pleased to play his cards close.

Nov 8, 2009, 9:52am

what a wonderful trio: Benjamin, Baudelaire and Proust.

What you wrote about phenomononononology earlier (dammit I can never type that word) ties in so much with Plato and Buddhism and the notion of the self that I am exploring in Dostoevsky. I want to put some thoughts together on this.

but I think I need to go lie down and read some Baudelaire.

Nov 8, 2009, 10:06am

stunning picture.

Saint Roland Barthes writes on the meaning of doors and windows in literature:

a whole complex of death, pleasure, limit, secret is bound up in them

In Musil's Man without Qualities, 'the hero' spends a great deal of time standing at the window looking into the street; it's a recurring trope throughout the book. could this be a symbolic reference to what Musil was reading in his studies in Phenonompmmonetc?

Nov 8, 2009, 11:00am

I had not read Barthes until recently. But his Camera Lucida gave me the opportunity - early photography, and the pre history of photography, camera obscuras, lucidas, steroescopes, dioramas (Balzac shared his enthusiasm for this latter form by having the lodgers in Pere Goriot follow the fashion of the day by appending -orama to every significant word they used, to great amusement) are an interest of mine.

From post 27: Musil illustrates each unsuccessful attempt by Torless' consciousness B to reach or capture Aby using the motif of a small, light object emerging then disappearing into a dark background.

A window often seems to be the medium through which such things occur in Musil. I think you are right, phenomenology had an influence on M., at least to the extent that Carl Stumpf, for whom Musil was a student, was an influence on Husserl.

Editado: Nov 8, 2009, 1:31pm

And so to Jung himself.

"These first experimental psychologists were in the same predicament as the mythical discoverer of the numerical sequence, who strung peas together in a row and simply went on adding another unit to those already present. When he contemplated the result, it looked as if it was nothing but a hundred identical units; but the numbers he had thought of only as names unexpectedly turned out to be peculiar entities with irreducible properties. For instance, there were even, uneven, and primary numbers; positive, negative, irrational, and imaginary numbers, etc. So it is with psychology: if the soul is really only an idea, this idea has an alarming air of unpredictability about it - something with qualities no one would ever have imagined. One can go on asserting that the psyche is consciousness and its contents, but that does not prevent, in fact it hastens, the discovery of a background not previously suspected, a true matrix of all conscious phenomena, a preconsciousness and a postconsciousness, a superconsciousness and a subconsciousness."

Nov 8, 2009, 1:31pm

Jung's concept of collective unconsciousness does appear to have had a phenomenological influence:

The Archetypes which reside in the collective unconscious "... fall phenomenologically into two categories: instinctual and archetypal. The first includes the natural impulses, the second the dominants that emerge into consciousness as universal ideas. Between the contents of collective consciousness, which purport to be generally accepted truths, and those of the collective unconscious there is so pronounced a contrast that the latter are rejected as totally irrational, not to say meaningless, and are most unjustifiably excluded from the scientific purview as though they did not exist. However, psychic phenomena of this kind exist with a vengeance, and if they appear nonsensical to us, that only proves that we do not understand them."

Editado: Nov 11, 2009, 5:09pm

And he also connects with the 'ancient wisdom' ideas of Berlin et al (that reason and science cannot pierce the impenetrability and fundamentally unknowable interconnections of everyday life):

"The medieval man had not yet fallen such a helpless victim to worldliness as the contemporary mass man, for, to offset the notorious and, so to speak, tangible powers of this world, he still acknowledged the equally influential metaphysical potencies which demanded to be taken into account."

Jung also seems to concur with Berlin in his tirade against idealistic strategies for progress:

"The current 'isms' ... are nothing but dangerous identifications of the subjective with the collective consciousness." The argument here being that following the whims of the collective consciousness without the balancing factors of the shadow collective unconscious will lead to false premises being followed. This "... infallibly produces a mass psyche with its irresistible urge to catastrophe."

Editado: Nov 20, 2009, 8:11am

Just as Freud proposed 3 levels of the psyche:

i) the conscious mind - the accessible area, aware of its own thoughts.
ii) the unconscious - the repository for repressed ideas and thoughts.
iii) the preconscious - the link between i) and ii) with non - repressed thoughts which are not in the conscious mind but can be easily recalled.

so Jung also posited 3 levels:

i) the conscious mind - unique to each individual. Perception, memory, thoughts and feelings are organised here.
ii) the personal unconscious - also unique in each person, made up of thoughts, feelings, memories that have lost their intensity, were forgotten or repressed.
(so far Jung's i) and ii) are similar to those of Freud. However, Jung's third level is a departure from Freud),
iii) the collective unconscious - this level is not unique to each person but is shared. Unlike personal conscious, it cannot be changed or added to because it is already fixed, fully formed, outside of the orbit of individual control."Jung saw the collective unconscious as the true basis of the individual psyche." Teach Yourself Jung, Ruth Snowden

Nov 20, 2009, 9:11am

For Jung the psyche is layered. It is built up with the personal conscious, the personal unconscious which is populated by complexes, and the collective conscious which is populated by archetypes.

Complexes are driven or influenced by the archetypes.

The archetypes themselves are basic, fundamental prototype ideas around patterns of behaviour. Myths and religious movements are the most obvious embodiements of the power of these archetypes to drive human behaviour and understanding.

"In view of the structure of the body, it would be astonishing if the psyche was the only biological phenomenon not to show clear traces of evolutionary history, and it is altogether probable that these marks are closely connected with the instinctual base." Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche.

Nov 27, 2009, 11:24am

Some key influences in Jung's life:

I - Ching

Nov 27, 2009, 11:42am

"Science has tended to train people to think that A causes B which causes C, in a neat, orderly, linear fashion - so related events are connected by cause and effect. This idea is known as causality. Eastern thinking, as Jung discovered by playing with the I - Ching, has long taught that there is another way in which events can be connected: A and B are connected, but neither need be the cause of the other. This is what Jung called synchronicity and he suggested that coincidences worked in this way."

Ruth Snowden.

Nov 27, 2009, 12:00pm

Compare Jung's synchronicity with Freud's notion of unheimlich - the uncanny.

Nov 27, 2009, 5:43pm

I think there is a story of Jung and Freud meeting, for some reason I think in New York in an attempt to patch things up -- and they are sitting in a room and a piece of furniture makes a sharp cracking noise, and maybe I am getting this wrong but either Jung predicted the first crack on another as they were talking of a heated subject for both of them, and Freud was very unhappy at this, especially when it then happened. I'll see if I can find the source of that story - I haven't read a whole lot on Jung really at all. I like the idea that his ideas are remarks on psychology or psychotherapy whilst not being a full system in themselves. But it always leaves me wondering what system he had that they are remarks about -- maybe I just need to read him more to know. But lots to love about him -- from playing in the sand box before meeting clients, well all sorts. recently a new book was published, forget its name, the book he saw as his most important but never published before, saw it briefly in the TLS i think, will try and find out more about that too.

Do you know Carl Rogers' work at all? That's my base ground and more recent developments of it -- and humanistic psychology/approaches.

Nov 28, 2009, 11:58am

Tony, thanks for the Jung - Freud story, their relationship was a very interesting one.

The previously unpublished book sounds rather intriguing, I would be interested in it if you find any more out about it.

I am not familiar with Rogers- what are his main interests and ideas?

Nov 28, 2009, 1:43pm


I just had time to look the previosuly unpublished book - it was called liber novus, but he often referred to it as the red book (it was bound in red). you can read about it here:


and see some of his illustrations for it and text here (fantastic, very Blake-like I think):


I think I remember where I read that story and will look it up.
Carl Rogers is to me very important - the originator really of Person Centred counselling/therapy. part of the humanistic or third wave of therapies -- which to me are such a relief to medical models and the priests of psychoanalytical psychotherapy.

Editado: Nov 29, 2009, 4:33am

Ah yes, I have heard of the red book, but hadn't realised it was now in the public domain. I think it would be fascinating to read.

My wife talks of the shortcomings of the medical model in relation to her work. She manages a team of community psychiatric nurses and social workers who work with the elderly. The former use the medical model and often lose sight (I am told) of the person behind the symptoms.

Dic 7, 2009, 9:45pm

I keep meaning to post this Baudelaire poem with reference to your remarks on Jung's archetypal symbols. You probably know it anyway.

La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.
Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.
II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,
Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.

— Charles Baudelaire

Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with understanding eyes.
Like prolonged echoes mingling in the distance
In a deep and tenebrous unity,
Vast as the dark of night and as the light of day,
Perfumes, sounds, and colors correspond.
There are perfumes as cool as the flesh of children,
Sweet as oboes, green as meadows
— And others are corrupt, and rich, triumphant,
With power to expand into infinity,
Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin,
That sing the ecstasy of the soul and senses.

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

Dic 8, 2009, 4:28pm

Yes I like the Jungian sentiment - with the forest of symbols and the prolonged echoes. Very nice indeed to my mind.

'Sweet as oboes, green as meadows...'

Strangely, this is not one of the poems which I had anchored on in my reading of The Flowers of Evil, but having just now picked up my copy, I see that it reads a little differently (transl. by James McGowan, Oxford World's Classics).

My version starts:

Nature is a temple, where the living
Columns sometimes breathe confusing speech;
Man walks within these groves of symbols, each
Of which regards him as a kindred thing.

If only my french was more servicable, I would like to get B's exact phrasing. However, I think his idea of the world comes through in both texts.

Editado: Dic 8, 2009, 4:44pm

I am now passing on from Jung to the phenomenologists, who appear to be much better regarded in mainland Europe than in the UK/USA. The phenomenological view is quoted in both Camus and Bachelard, and it appears to implicitly influence the likes of Musil, Kafka and Proust.

Baudelaire predates but perhaps anticipates.

I am coming to the conclusion that Proust is a phenomenologist of the highest order. If the extreme of phenomenological philosophy is that all things (living and non livng) bear equal importance, then Proust is your man. I will try to organise my thoughts to write more on this - it has tempered my reading of Proust (in a good way)

Dic 10, 2009, 10:39pm

144 I found these alternative translations which are interesting to compare.


The more I think about it, the more I think you are right about B and P being phenomenologists of the first order.

'Correspondances' has suggestions of synasthesia. What does the study of synasthesia have to contribute to phenomenology?

Scriabin was also a synasthesiac.


Editado: Dic 11, 2009, 7:05am

tcM - after reading your review of Eco, I wonder what the relationship is between semiotics and phenomenology?

And with Jungian thought?

And with synesthesia - which I always wanted to have - colour and symbols can have a deep meaning for me - to have them combined in this strange way would be a fine thing indeed.

I should like to go into all this further at some stage. What literature is there on semiotics for a beginner?

Dic 14, 2009, 3:33am

I would say that semiotics is phenomenology with labels attached. Semiotics seeks to study the labels we give to the things we perceive, either at the level of communication: talking about the things we perceive; or at the level of cognition: thinking about the things we perceive. No?

Here is a quick list of references on Semiotics.


Semiotics: The Basics Daniel Chandler
This Means This, This Means That: A User's Guide to Semiotics Sean Hall
Elements of Semiology Roland Barthes (this is a classic, but you might want to try the other two first as more general introductions.)
THe wikipedia entry on Semiotics is also rather useful.

Dic 15, 2009, 7:23am

Splendid - thank you.

Dic 15, 2009, 4:59pm

"History is a strong myth, perhaps, along with the unconscious, the last great myth."


Editado: Dic 22, 2009, 11:12am

Further to my belief that Proust saw all animate (and inanimate) things as having some kind of equal value, each with a story to tell, implicit in their very existence, I have come across reference to an early essay Proust wrote on the artist Chardin. For P. Chardin elicits "... the hidden life of the inanimate..." in his art.

The Chardin essay was written perhaps a decade before ISoLT with its cast of animate and inanimate characters. But the impression left by Chardin must have lasted.

Still life by Chardin:

Editado: Dic 22, 2009, 11:23am

And who can tell me that Atget, in his own fashion, does not have an appreciation of the non living, and even the man-made as having a 'personality' too?

Dic 31, 2009, 6:24am

I've tried to bring some of my thoughts from this thread together in a review of Swann's Way. I see links between a lot of my reading this year, some more tenuous than others.

There is something about the equality of all things, and the latent but hidden depths of all things. Is it related to this idea of an ancient wisdom, sceptical of ideals and programs for improvement, reliant, instead, on arcane rites and methodologies for appeasing whatever big or small gods inhabit this domain with us?