I thought of Carolyn in September and I thought I ought to check the obituaries. She died September 20th at age 90, her longevity as if in counterpoise to the short tenures of her main men, wildman Neal Cassady, the Dean Moriarty of Kerouac's 1957 On the Road, and the brooding Jack Kerouac himself. Carolyn played the stabilizer to the mania of the one and the melancholy of the other. Both quit the sublunary before the '60s had run their course. The tale of Jack's end has been told too many times, though I will tell it again on 21 October, the 44th anniversary of his exit from the "slaving meat wheel." Neal's demise is less frequently recounted.
died in February of 1968, also of substance abuse, having quaffed a nasty
concotion of pulque and Seconals, while walking the railroad tracks near San Miguel de
Allende, Mexico. Legend has it that Cassady had been counting the ties and that
his last word was "64, 928." (Cf. William Plummer, The Holy Goof: A
Biography of Neal Cassady, Paragon, 1981, pp. 157-158.)
Carolyn kept the beat while the wildmen soloed, seeking ecstasy where it cannot be found.
May all who sincerely seek beatitude find it. Kerouac: "I want to be sincere." May Jack with his visions of Gerard, of Cody, finally enjoy the ultimate beat vision, the visio beata.
I met Dallas Willard only once, at an A. P. A. meeting in San Francisco in the early '90s. I had sent him a paper on Husserl and Heidegger and we had plans to get together over dinner to discuss it. Unfortunately, the plans fell through when a son of Willard showed up. But we did speak briefly and I still recall his kindness and his words, "I'll help you any way I can." In the few minutes I was with him I became aware of his depth and his goodness.
My only serious engagement with Professor Willard's work was via a long and intricate paper I published in Philosophia Christi, "The Moreland-Willard-Lotze Thesis on Being," vol. 6, no. 1 (2004), pp. 27-58.
We have it on good authority that death is the muse of philosophy. The muse reminds us that our time is short and to be well used. I expect Willard would approve of the following lines from St Augustine's Confessions, Book VI, Chapter 11, Ryan trans.:
Let us put away these vain and empty concerns. Let us turn ourselves only to a search for truth. Life is hard, and death is uncertain. It may carry us away suddenly. In what state shall we leave this world? Where must we learn what we have neglected here? Or rather, must we not endure punishment for our negligence? What if death itself should cut off and put an end to all care, along with sensation itself? This too must be investigated.
Lawrence Auster died early this Good Friday morning. May he rest in peace and come to know what here below one can only believe. Here is Laura Wood's obituary. Auster's site will remain online and is well-worth reading. I must say, however, that I consider him an extremist and share Steve Burton's misgivings about his work. Auster's attacks on distinguished fellow conservatives are often wrongheaded and always tactically foolish, demonstrating as they do a failure to realize that politics is a practical business and that the best and the better are often the enemy of the good. We need a broad coalition to defeat leftists and Islamists. A certain amount of intramural squabbling is to be expected and may even be healthy, but not if it ramps up to internecine warfare. Dennis Prager is not the enemy because he is optimistic about e pluribus unum while you are not. Know who the enemy is.
With Auster and other ultra conservatives, however, it seems one can never be too far Right, and that one who grants the least scintilla of validity to any liberal notion is just as much an enemy as the hardest hard-core left-winger. From a practical point of view, such extremism is profoundly stupid. The ultras will end up talking to themselves in their narrow enclaves and have no effect on the wider culture all the while feeding their false sense of their own significance.
Ideological extremism is a fascinating topic. There are leftists for whom one cannot be too far Left, rightists for whom one cannot be too far Right, and, as we have recently observed in the case of Thomas Nagel and his latest book, atheistic naturalists for whom one cannot be too much of an atheist and too much of a naturalist.
Poor Nagel: atheist, naturalist, liberal. But still too reasonable and balanced and philosophical for the fanatics and hard-liners of scientistic ideology. Shunned by his own kind, Nagel must turn to theists, anti-naturalists, and conservatives for appreciation and serious discussion.
Here is my favorite Koch quotation: ''Listen, I love Boston,'' Mr. Koch said. ''It's a wonderful town to come up and visit, on occasion, but it's not New York. Boston is a very nice town, but compared to New York it's Podunk.''
That's Koch for you. Outspoken. Testicular. Not that I agree with the jibe. I'd take the Athens of America over the Big Apple any day. I was offered full funding to attend graduate school both in New York and in Boston. So in the spring of '73 I made the transcontinental trek from Los Angeles by thumb and 'dog' to check out both places. The dismality and crowdedness and dirtiness of NYC with smack addicts on the nod in the subway decided the question for me.
My Boston years were blissful. A great, compact, vibrant town, the hub of the universe and the Eastern hub of the running boom. A great town to be young in. But when it comes time to own things and pay taxes, the West is the best, but not so far West that you end up on the Left Coast. (Trivia question: which member of the 27 Club uttered the italicized words and in which song?)
Koch was a species of liberal that scarcely exists anymore on the national stage: a liberal, as he liked to put it, “with sanity.” The sanity acted as a prophylactic against the sort of racialist identity politics that helped make the mayoralty of David Dinkins, Koch’s successor, such a conspicuous disaster. It also underwrote his relative independence as a political actor. Thus Koch, in 2004, crossed party lines to endorse George W. Bush, not so much because he agreed with all of Dubya’s platform but because he understood that that United States was under threat from a mortal, if also amorphous, enemy, and Koch was an unembarrassed patriot.
A sane liberal. A dying breed. 'Sane liberal' is becoming an oxymoron and 'liberal loon' a pleonasm.
I was saddened to hear from Malcolm Pollack just now that Bob Koepp, who commented extensively at both our sites, died on 29 February of this year. Ever the gentleman, Bob contributed to the discussions at the old Powerblogs site and here at the Typepad incarnation of MavPhil. He had an M. A. in philosophy and studied under Wilfrid Sellars. He was such a mild-mannered man that I sometimes wondered if my more acerbic asseverations offended him. His comments are here. Bob will be remembered. My condolences to his family and friends. As the obituary below says, for Bob, "the questions mattered more than the answers." He exemplified the philosophical spirit.
On a lighter note, I once made mention of Maynard G. Krebs, the Bob Denver beatnik character from the 1959-1963 sitcom, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Koepp remarked that back then he thought Krebs the quintessence of cool.
Koepp, Robert V. Our beloved Bob, age 60, of St. Paul, passed away on February 29. He was diagnosed just three months earlier with lung cancer, which he faced with admirable strength, caring above all for the comfort of those he loved. He is mourned by mother Helen (Rohe) Koepp of Hutchinson, siblings Reinhard of Tarpon Springs, FL; Ken (Jan) of Hot Springs Village, AR; Karen of Minneapolis; Marla (Bob) Lichtsinn of Fountain Valley, CA; Vern (Cindy) of Rush City; Irene (Dave) Schwartz of Litchfield; Marty of Minneapolis; Aaron (Laury) of Fort Collins, CO; Esther of Eagan; and Joanne (Randy) Fischer of Wausau, WI, as well as other dear relatives and friends. He was predeceased by father Reinhard W. Koepp and grandparents Herman and Augusta Koepp and Walter and Anna Rohe.
Bob, whose abiding wish was for racial equality, believed deeply in loving God and your neighbor. He grew up in Brownton, was a lifelong student of philosophy of science, ethics and bioethics (Gustavus, U Pitt, U of M), and coordinated oncology research at Children's Hospital, Minneapolis. Bob also loved nature and fishing, helping family members with jobs and projects of all kinds, especially woodworking, and music, especially Bach. He was astoundingly bright, and for him, in life or in energetic dialogue, the questions mattered more than the answers. He was selfless, generous and exemplary in so many ways, and he will be dearly missed. A memorial gathering is being planned. Remember him by supporting racial equality or nature organizations, or by doing a random act of kindness.
Janis Joplin. Date of Death: 4 October 1970. Cause: heroin overdose. She was at Monterey too. My favorite is her rendition of Kris Krisofferson's Me and Bobby McGee. Otherwise, I didn't much like her vocal stylings: too screechy and screamy. Dead 42 years, she's been dead longer than she lived.
Tomorrow is the 57th anniversary of the death of James Dean. When the young Dean crashed his low slung silver Porsche Spyder on a lonely California highway on September 30, 1955, he catapulted a couple of unknowns into the national spotlight. One of them was Ernie Tripke, one of two California Highway Patrol officers who arrived at the scene. He died in 2010 at the age of 88. But what ever happened to Donald Turnupseed, the driver who turned in front of the speeding Dean, having failed to see him coming? His story is here. In exfoliation of the theme that "speed kills" I present the following for your listening pleasure:
I wasn't aware of this until now. Williams was London Ed's teacher. I battle the former via the latter.
It came as news to me that Williams spent most of his life in a wheelchair. It testifies to the possibilities of the human spirit that great adversity for some is no impediment to achievement. I think also of Stephen Hawking, Charles Krauthammer, and FDR.
So stop whining and be grateful for what you have. You could be in a bloody wheelchair!
I sometimes express skepticism about the value of the study of history. If history has lessons, they don't seem applicable to the present in any useful way. But there is no denying that history is a rich source of exemplary lives. These exemplary lives show what is humanly possible and furnish existential ideals. Helmuth James von Moltke was a key figure in the German resistance to Hitler. The Nazis executed him in 1945. Here is his story. Here is an obituary of his wife, Freya.
John Hick has negotiated that mysterious transition that awaits us all. Here is one take on his passing. I saw him in action only once. I recall him questioning whether Jesus ever claimed to be God. An ill-mannered colleague of mine attacked him for that, churlishly. Hick retained his equaninimity, projecting a superiority that was yet without a trace of superciliousness. That impressed me and furnished me with yet another insight into the hierarchy of the spirit and the inequality of human beings.
Hick's An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent is required reading for philosophers of religion. I have two posts on Hick.
My former colleague Xavier Monasterio died last year on this date. Curiously, January 4th was also the date of death of his philosophical hero Albert Camus. This being a weblog, and thus an online journal of the personal and the impersonal, I didn't want the day to pass without a brief remembrance of the man. I'll say a little today and perhaps supplement it later on.
An obituary by his Indiana University colleague, Nino Cocchiarella.
"Grossmann was well known among his colleagues for his eagerness to discuss philosophical problems and to engage in sustained debate on fundamental positions." Sounds right. When I, a stranger, wrote Grossmann sometime in the '80s and posed some questions for him, he responded in a thorough and friendly manner. May peace be upon him.
Here is another obituary by Javier Cumpa and Erwin Tegtmeier. It ends with a tantalizing reference to the book Grossmann was working on when felled by a massive stroke: Facts. I hope Grossmann's literary executors make the manuscript available.
The summer of '84 found me in Bloomington, Indiana. Thanks to the largesse of the American taxpayer, I was a 'seminarian' in Hector-Neri Castaneda's NEH Summer Seminar. One afternoon we repaired to a bar where we encountered Professor Grossmann. He told a story about the 19th century German philosopher Kuno Fischer, who was a big name in his day and a professor at Heidelberg. One day some workmen were making a racket outside his apartment. This incensed the good professor and he warned the workmen: "If you don't stop making this noise, I will leave Heidelberg!" The workmen stopped. Grossmann remarked that if Quine were to have lodged a similar complaint, the workmen would have laughed and bid him goodbye.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
As Heidegger might have said, we achieve our authenticity (Eigentlichkeit) in Being-towards-death (Sein-zum-Tode).
Amy Winehouse succumbed to the curse of 27 today. Why is 27 such an auspicious age for a quick exit from life's freeway? My guess is that at 27 one is still too young fully to appreciate the ravages to the body of life in the fast lane but is old enough to have done irreparable damage, so much so that just one more snort, one more shot, one more binge pushes the self-abuser over the edge. So 27 is a sort of crossroads.
Here is Winehouse singing the great Gerry Goffin-Carole King song, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? But there never was and never will be a cover superior to the Shirelle's 1961 version. I've loved this song, in this version, ever since I first heard it in '61. Carole King's version from her 1971 Tapestry album is also outstanding.
I quoted Jim Morrison on the eve of the 40th anniversary of his death: "The future's uncertain, and the end is always near." This morning I discovered that Rob Grill, lead singer of The Grassroots, has passed on. Their first top ten hit, "Live forToday," made the charts in the fabulous and far-off Summer of Love (1967). The lyrics are laden with the '60s Zeitgeist and express something true and valuable that continues to resonate with many of us who were young in those days.
Here is a delightful clip in which none other than Jimmy Durante introduces the boys -- "They don't have a manager, they have a gardener" -- singing (or rather lip-syncing) their signature number.
I first became aware of the Australian philosopher Quentin Gibson when I discovered his book The Existence Principle. It was published in 1998, when Gibson was 85 years old, in the Kluwer Philosophical Studies Series, #75. My A Paradigm Theory of Existence appeared in the same series in 2002, #89. Our approaches are radically different: I maintain what he denies, for one thing, that there are modes of existence. I discuss some of his ideas on pp. 15-22 of my book.
I learned here that Gibson is the son of W. R. Boyce Gibson whose translation of Edmund Husserl's Ideen I studied as an undergraduate. Small world.
You will have noticed, astute reader that you are, that my opening sentence is ambiguous. 'The late pianist George Shearing' must be read de re for the sentence to be true, while my formulation suggests a de dicto reading. Compare:
a. The late George Shearing is such that that there is a passage in OTR about him.
b. There is a passage in OTR about the late George Shearing.
(a) is plainly true and wholly unproblematic. (b), however, is false in that there is no passage in OTR about George Shearing under the description 'late' or 'deceased.' On the contrary, the passage in question depicts him as so exuberantly alive as to drive Dean Moriarty 'mad.' But is (b) plainly false?
I suppose it depends on whether 'about' is ambiguous in (b). Can a passage that depicts x as F be about x even if x is not F? Or must x be F if a passage that depicts x as F is correctly describable as about x? My tentative view is that there are both uses in ordinary English. Consequently, (b) is not plainly false.
Is the definite description 'the man in the corner with champagne in his glass' about a man in the corner even if he does not have champagne in his glass but sparkling water instead? If you say 'yes,' then you should agree that (b) is not plainly false, but ambiguous.
An inspiration. Brother Jackass will carry you over many a pons asinorum for many a year if properly fueled and disciplined. Reform your diet and set aside two to three hours per day for vigorous exercise. Lalanne swam an hour a day and lifted weights for two. Right up until the end. And he always 'went to failure' doing his reps until he could do no more.
Albert Camus, one of the luminaries of French existentialism, died on this day in 1960, in a car crash. He was 46. Had he lived, he might have become a Christian. Or so it seems from Howard Mumma, Conversations with Camus. This second-hand report is worth considering, although it must be consumed cum grano salis. See also Camus the Christian?
When the young James Dean crashed his low slung silver Porsche Spyder on a lonely California highway on September 30, 1955, he catapulted a couple of unknowns into the national spotlight. One of them was Ernie Tripke, one of two California Highway Patrol officers who arrived at the scene. He has died at the age of 88. But what ever happened to Donald Turnupseed, the driver who turned in front of the speeding Dean, having failed to see him coming? His story is here.
Is dying young a bad thing for the one who dies? What if it makes you 'immortal' as in the case of James Dean? More grist for the Epicurean mill.
Tomorrow, October 21, is the 41st anniversary of Jack Kerouac's death. I remember the day well, having noted Jack's passing on a piece of looseleaf I still have in a huge file full of juvenilia from that period.
The NYT obituary features a perceptive quotation from Allen Ginsberg: "A very unique cat -- a French Canadian Hinayana Buddhist Beat Catholic savant." For pith and accuracy, that's hard to beat. The obituary concludes by noting that Kerouac "had no use for the radical politics that came to preoccupy many of his friends and readers."
"I'm not a beatnik. I'm a Catholic," he said last month. He showed the interviewer a painting of Pope Paul VI and said, "Do you know who painted that? Me."
"The poor" are to liberalism roughly what "the proletariat" is to Communism--a formalistic device for legitimating the assumption of power. What matters, for practical liberals, is not that (for example) the black illegitimacy rate has nearly tripled since the dawn of the Great Society; it is that a huge new class of beneficiaries has been engendered--beneficiaries who vote, and who feel entitled to money that must be taken from others. It is too seldom pointed out that a voter is a public official, and that the use of proffered entitlements to win votes amounts to bribery. For this reason John Stuart Mill pronounced it axiomatic that those who get relief from the state should be disfranchised. But such a proposal would now be called inhuman, which helps account for the gargantuan increase in the size and scope of federal spending. Corrupt politicians make headlines; but no honest politician dares to refer to the problem of corrupt voters, who use the state as an instrument of gain.
[. . .]
The enemy, for socialism, is any permanent authority, whether it is a long-standing church or a holy scripture, whose tendency is to put a brake on political power. In fact power and authority are often confused nowadays: the thoroughly politicized man who seeks power can only experience and interpret authority as a rival form of power, because it impedes his ambition for a thoroughly politicized society. But authority is more nearly the opposite of power. It offers a standard of truth or morality that is indifferent and therefore often opposed to current desires and forces, standing in judgment over them. If God has revealed Himself to man, the progressive agenda may find itself seriously inconvenienced.
For this reason, religion is a source of deep anxiety to the liberal. He harps on its historical sins: Crusades, Inquisitions, witch burnings, wars. He never notices that the crimes of atheist regimes, in less than a century, have dwarfed those of all organized religions in recorded history. He sees Christianity's sporadic persecutions as being of its essence; he regards Communism's unbroken persecution as incidental to its potential for good. He warns of the "danger" posed by American fundamentalists (one of the most gentle and law-abiding segments of the population) and is unchastened by the results of "peace" in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Life in the fast lane often leads to a quick exit from life's freeway. You may recall Terry Kath, guitarist for the band Chicago. In 1978, while drunk, he shot himself in the head with a 'unloaded' gun. At first he had been fooling with a .38 revolver. Then he picked up a semi-automatic 9 mm pistol, removed the magazine, pointed it at his head, spoke his last words, and pulled the trigger. Unfortunately for his head, there was a round in the chamber. Or that is one way the story goes.
Such inadvertent exits are easily avoided by exceptionless observation of three rules: Never point a gun at something you do not want to destroy. Treat every gun as if loaded, whether loaded or not. Never mix alcohol and gunpowder.
Here. ". . . it is clear that Flew’s repudiation of atheism was heartfelt and seems to have been largely rooted in his dislike of polemical atheism. His own atheism was always cautious, nuanced and respectful of Christian tradition. [. . .] Professor Antony Flew, philosopher, was born on February 11, 1923. He died on April 8, 2010, aged 87."
We who are obscure ought to be grateful for it. It is wonderful to be able to walk down the street and be taken for an average schmuck. A lttle recognition from a few high-quality individuals is all one needs. Fame can be a curse. The unhinged Mark David Chapman, animated by Holden Caulfield's animus against phoniness, decided that John Lennon was a phony, and so had to be shot.
The mad pursuit of empty celebrity by so many in our society shows their and its spiritual vacuity.
UPDATE (1/30/10): Apparently, today's teens cannot relate to Holden Caulfield.