March 8, 2013
"Without him, no existentialism, no deconstruction, no post-structuralism as we know them."
George Steiner`s verdict in the TLS of 22 February 2013 on Martin Heidegger`s contemporary academic legacy in `How Private a Nazi`is even more true when applied to Edmund Husserl. Heidegger had brutally gazumped and then adopted many of the original insights (more…)
September 16, 2012
Goethe feared that already in his epoch the world was becoming “a barren place for the human affections to dwell in.” He fought a lifelong battle to fuse scientific investigations with poetry. For as he put it: “Beauty is the manifestation of secret laws of nature which, were it not for their being revealed through beauty, would have remained unknown for ever.” In other words, the development of knowledge is inseparable from the intuitive apprehension of beauty. Symmetry, not by any means identical to beauty but clearly related, has been instrumental in atomic discoveries. And it has perhaps been the unconscious spur to the quest for further knowledge in both the sciences and the arts in Francis Bacon`s idea of beauty as an image of infinity.
Concepts of beauty vary, of course, in diverse cultures and are ever-changing. Beauty can most usually be defined in the way that gravity locates a new star. It is to be posited in an oblique context, what Goethe called Darstellung “the demonstration or representation of an object, brought into relation with others in such a way that its significance is revealed.” Beauty, in other words, hardly exists as an absolute. In-your-face strategies, so to speak, will not work. There may be some intimation of perfection in an individual`s sense of the beauty of another human. It may be that initially this may be illusory, an eidolon. Benedetto Croce gives a vibrant appraisal of such beauty in his comments on Goethe`s Helena – “It is Beauty, enchantment, intoxication, perdition; Beauty, the very presence of which causes a trembling, a desire for joy, a desire for death, innocently guilty in this effect which it produces, yet seized by the sense of guilt of which it is not guilty, and awaiting it knows not what punishment, which will put an end to its tempestuous, devastating career.” But the appreciation of such beauty is only a start! The work is only just beginning. It may be chasing a will-o-the-wisp, but one is led into attempting to put conceptual life on this glimpsed perfection.
Bertrand Russell proposed that “mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture.” Goethe came to understand the beauty of the Gothic Strasbourg Cathedral as a fusion of character and symmetry. His was a slow process of appreciation, also taking in the cathedrals at Cologne and Freiburg. As he says in Poetry and Truth:
"We see that each and every ornament is in complete harmony with every part that it decorates, is subordinated thereto, and appears to have been generated thereby…I know that I myself, although enraptured by this great work on first sight, needed much time in order to become intimately acquainted with its merit." So the percolation of some forms of beauty is gradual, takes time and, as it were, steals upon the viewer. Less clearly `out there` is the beauty of language and its ramifications. Language, when fully comprehended, offers a warmer truth than architecture or sculpture since language is so intimate to human experience. What has not been clearly defined previously is the specific way humans through the ages have unconsciously created the clues in language and art to understand their nature more fully. As in the genetic lottery that gave rise to the human species, these clues are apparently randomly thrown out in early language. The great theoretician of beauty, Benedetto Croce - had sensed this. He wrote that “the much-sought-for science of language, general Linguistic, in so far as what it contains is reducible to philosophy, is nothing but Aesthetic...Philosophy of language and philosophy of art are (sic) the same thing.”
A soon-to-be published book of mine will hopefully reveal the most significant symmetries of language, and at the same time reveal their metaphors in nature where they translate as natural beauty. This is not a mere sleight of mind and logic, but a genuine historical actuality, and one of great importance for an interpretation of human nature. It owes a great deal to the pioneering thinking of Norman O. Brown, the author of Life against Death and Love`s Body. (more…)
June 6, 2012
This is a shocking reprt from the Monday Deccan Herald confirming the continuing wrecking of lepidoptera sites:
Massive decline in butterflies in Himalayas
Shimla, June 4 (IANS)
The lofty western Himalayas are being slowly robbed of their butterflies, with at least 50 percent of the species showing a massive decline in less than a decade due (more…)
May 27, 2012
The impending arrival of the Olympic Games to Britain has produced fevered comments on their relationship to Zeus (London Tmes, Telegraph et al.)
They were in fact instituted to honor Pelops in 776 BCE. He was the son of Tantalus and grandfather of Agamemnon who was to lead the Greeks into war with the Trojans. (more…)
March 7, 2012
The death of Dmitri Nabokov at Vevey on 22nd February after a series of illnesses deprives us of a rather wonderful author in his own right. Back in 2003, I had contacted him to enquire about the possibility of his (re-)constructing his father`s book on Butterflies in Art from the cards on which he jotted down his notes. His reply to someone who had written on Vladimir only en passant had been seriously considered, and I received the following on Tuesday 11 March 2003: (more…)
November 1, 2011
Doubt has been not only thrown on the identity of Shakespeare,but whether a single person could possibly have written the plays (BBC Radio 3 "Breakfast," last week). This is all part of a massive crisis of identity in the post-imperial English nation, which has led to a blizzard of self-destruction. The clearest proof that one individual wrote the plays is that Shakespeare tends to write in segments of 4 plays. His mind is not only incredibly fertile, but it is characterized by a distinctive symmetry. (more…)
May 23, 2011
With the integration of sectors of the University of London in the Gaddafi regime and St. Andrews University with the Syrian government, it is not surprising that academics have become surprisingly mute on Middle Eastern matters. I got to thinking thus about a soldier and his dog murdered by the Taliban recently:
He lived for others while his brief days lasted.
Nature had been traduced, that stream, that culvert,
some verge became a random death-sentence
beyond the vibrant senses of his innocent animal
the soldier`s dog, heart-broken at the last. (more…)
October 19, 2010
Over the past 30 years, when wanting any literary criticism I have found myself returning to the great classics of the mid-last century - books such as J.F. Danby`s Shakespeare`s Doctrine of Nature or Caroline Spurgeon`s Shakespeare`s Imagery. Deliberate obfuscation has long overtaken contemporary criticism, with the exception of pioneering all-encompassing masterpieces like Norman O. Brown`s Love`s Body & Life against Death.
So it was with a sense of real intellectual excitement that I began to read Sanford Budick`s volume Kant & Milton (Harvard UP, 2010). Here at long last is a book that sets the philosophical gelignite fizzing beneath the negative judgments of Messrs T.S. Eliot and Leavis who dislodged Milton from favor those many years ago. (more…)
October 14, 2010
I`ve only recently caught up with a brilliant book (CHRYSALIS) by Kim Todd on the remarkable woman naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian. I first came across Merian in the Exhibition 3 years ago AMAZING RARE THINGS, part curated by David Attenborough - who seems to be more interested in the thrilling realism of wildebeests being savaged by lions these days.
Merian was one of the first after Jan Swammerdam to describe the processes of metamorphosis in nature, which she did directly from nature rather than the lab. As Kim Todd points out "Her portraits and descriptions of Surinamese insects were so definitive that Linnaeus, in compiling his systematization of natural life, used her drawings rather than actual specimens."
A blog is not the place to undertake an argument as to the full significance of insect transformation in the disputes over natural selection. But as I have shown in a series of published books (which are introduced on my accompanying website,) metamorphosis feeds into all the great artistic, literary and musical achievements of the human race. This may appear to be metaphysical, but sonatas, symphonies, Shakespeare`s dramatic evolution - all follow this entirely natural and physical parabola.
It`s just that most folk look down in insects as relatively insignificant when they`re not a positive menace (the infamous Scottish midge). But as a matter of sheer fact, they are more SIGNIFICANT in evolutionary terms than the higher apes which of course have their place.
October 8, 2010
The Purple Emperor Butterfly is a rarity, and according to the magnificent compendium of American Lepidoptera by James A. Scott in his THE BUTTERFLIES OF NORTH AMERICA: A NATURAL HISTORY AND FIELD GUIDE, it appears in the USA only as a stray. Its behavior is seriously incorrect, because it hangs around at the tops (more…)