My New Diary, 10/28 to 10/30/2018


{10/28/18}  Weight 218.8.  Gonna be higher tomorrow (writing at 10:53 pm).

Oliver and Ashlynn

“She was a sweet ‘wild child.’ He was an intense but also sweet boy.”  That’s how I described my picture of [the above children, on Twitter] at Chula Vista Meadow.  Sounds like a seed for a story that I’ll never write.  (Though maybe I will.)

My weight prediction is based on my having eaten four or five ice cream sandwiches today, in addition to Taco Bell and the usual breakfast and two Italian sodas (with added sugar) at Dagny’s.  The Hemlock Club was especially interesting today, but I don’t feel like writing about it, or about anything else, really.

Finished reading Thomas Nagel:  Mortal Questions.  There are about four essays that I haven’t read because the subjects don’t appeal, but the rest is invaluable.


{10/29/18}  Weight 219.2.


{10/30/18}  Weight 219.2.

Sometimes my dreams are more like obsessive thinking, like delirium or suffering a fever.  I generally enjoy dreaming, but this state is rather unpleasant.  I had one such this morning.  I was obsessively going over and over a rule for a card game called “Elusis.”  While this was happening, I think I must have been asleep, but I’m not quite sure.

Abbott’s New Card Games [Link]
The game itself is quite interesting.  It comes from a book, Abbott’s New Card Games, from which I learned one of my favorite games, called “Construction.”  This remarkable book, which was written up in the “Mathematical Games” column by Martin Gardner in Scientific American back in the ‘60s, is currently out of print, but used copies are available.  I used to own a copy, but it’s long gone; I sold it.

Watched Mad Love on TCM last night.  It was pretty silly.  I wanted to see it because it stars Peter Lorre.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk today, just hanging out on Twitter while various movies and MSNBC were on in the background.  Saw parts of various movies in the Halloween franchise, on AMC.  I’ve done no reading and just this bit of diary writing, grocery shopping, and it’s 9:20 pm, so I’m feeling like I’ve wasted the day.  I got up late (for me) at a bit after 8:00, but I went to bed late, maybe 12:30 am.  I blame the caffeine in the Pepsi I drank yesterday.  After last night I decided, “No more caffeine.”

Very dull, this is.

I couldn’t find anything worthwhile in Aristotle I of the Great Books, so I’m thinking I’ll try the “Poetics” or the “Politics” in volume II.  Durant recommends the “Politics,” I think.  People talk about “define your terms” when they’re in an argument, and that’s what Aristotle does in the “Categories” (the first piece in volume I); but when you get multiple definitions all in a row, before anything else is gone into, well, it’s excruciating reading.  The point of these definitions is to use them to draw out further and further distinctions, in a sort of verbal geometry, and many philosophical books are written this way.  I have yet to read more than a couple of pages of any of them, I just can’t stand it.  Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and something of Plotinus (I think) and Buber’s I and Thou all take an approach like this.

So, no more “Categories.”  I also tried to read the parts of “Physics” and “Metaphysics” where “Ari” talks about his “four causes.”  Pretty obscure, and it turns out that each of the causes has additional related causes, ending with six or twelve or something.  Also, the relevant sections repeat much the same text, so reading both is rather redundant.  I’m better off with just the discussion in Wikipedia, or perhaps in one of Durant’s books—The Age of Greece or The Story of Philosophy, or both.  I have read parts of each, but haven’t looked for the “four causes.”  Many years ago I read the start of Mortimer Adler’s Aristotle for Everybody where he goes into the “four causes,” and I’ve seen them used rather often in other works, but have never bothered to actually learn them or try to use them.  I do think that these are worth knowing, but it’s clear that I’ll never learn them from Aristotle.

I was annoyed by Adler’s book, and am generally annoyed by the late Professor because I blame him for much of the nonsense in the GBWW—it’s a set of books intended for the general reader, but it’s crippled for that purpose by many of the choices that Hutchins and Adler made.  I mean, really, even philosophy professors don’t generally read all of Aristotle and Plato.  The Harvard Classics, though decades older, are much more sensible about this sort of thing, but they also lack any sort of notes to help one through the millions of obscurities.

But I’ve read a number of volumes of the GBWW, and even ran a Yahoo Group for a few months that was intended to follow their Reading Plan, but that was cut short by my arrest and imprisonment.  But the Pascal, Melville, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Greek Plays, Plutarch (Lives), and a number of other volumes are convenient sources for some classics, because they can generally be gotten quite cheaply at library sales and such.  The whole set (first edition) can often be picked up (if you can!) for less than a hundred bucks.  The second edition is better, but generally way more expensive and harder to find.  The first volume of the first edition, by Robert Maynard Hutchins and called The Great Conversation, is very well worth reading if you’re interested in self-education through books.  I think that some printings of the first edition don’t include this, but I’m not sure.

The GBWW includes no volumes of poetry (though some verse works, like Shakespeare and Lucretius), and those of the Harvard Classics are just too old to be very useful—unless that’s what you’re looking for, of course.  Northrop Frye in The Well-Tempered Critic, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and London, 1963, says:

“…poetry, the main body of which is verse, is always the central powerhouse of a literary education. It contributes, first, the sense of rhythmical energy, the surge and thunder of epic and the sinewy and springing dialogue of Shakespearean drama. It contributes too, as the obverse of this, the sense of leisure, of expert timing of the swing and fall of cadences. Then there is the sense of wit and heightened intelligence, resulting from seeing disciplined words marching along in metrical patterns and in their inevitably right order. And there is the sense of concreteness that we can get only from the poet’s use of metaphor and of visualized imagery. Literary education of this kind, its rhythm and leisure slowly soaking into the body and its wet and concreteness into the mind, can do something to develop a speaking and writing prose style that comes out of the depths of personality and is a genuine expression of it.” p. 26

Except for Shakespeare, which I know quite well for a layperson, my education is poetry is mostly lacking.  I quoted this at length because, first, I had it available, and second, because I like the book very much and would urge the interested reader to seek it out (I mentioned it on 9/13/18, but didn’t say much).  It’s only the first sentence that I really wanted here.  The book is generally quite readable and entertaining, for a book of literary criticism (many others are excruciatingly dull).  I don’t doubt that he’s mostly right.  I feel some of what he’s talking about from my experience with Shakespeare—I’ve read all the plays and poems, but never got all the way through the Sonnets.  But the deepest knowledge I have of the texts came from hearing, over and over again, tapes of about half a dozen of the tragedies as I commuted to and from work for some years.  Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, and Lear I’ve listened to perhaps fifty times each, in addition to some videos also.  Why I was able to do this without boredom is something of a puzzle to me.  Gielgud’s Hamlet was cut to pieces, but the others were uncut, I believe.  I also heard three or four others, but never so repeatedly.  I was reading the plays in high school, purely for pleasure, along with things like Livy, Thucydides, Suetonius—Greek and Roman histories, in other words, and some of the Greek plays.

I don’t claim to understand Shakespeare to any great depth; I just can quote and recognize quotes, as I can recognize quite a few bird songs.  That’s all.  Repetition will do that, if you don’t mind it.

Nor am I claiming any personal merit—I merely read what interests me, just as others do, but I happen to be more interested in classics than most people are.  Others will defeat me easily in other areas of knowledge, such as pre-twentieth-century philosophy (except Nietzsche and Pascal), contemporary sports, which I totally ignore, and general and U.S. history, where my interest is a late acquisition (aside from the Greeks and Romans, as I said).  Likewise much recent fiction, for which I seem to have lost all interest, and mysteries.  But I suppose I will be thought a braggart in any case, except, I hope, by others who pursue interests like mine.

My book reading these days is almost exclusively in neuroscience and philosophy.


Diary entries from 6/1 to 9/30 are available in this file:  link.
Diary entries from 10/1 on are available here:  link.

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All right reserved.

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