Late-afternoon dip with Jon at a very flat Coogee. According to last night's TV news, the water is 19 degrees, but it still feels cold. Quite warm out though.
I bought this book many years ago, thinking it was a complete biography of Bertrand Russell's life, and possibly a good one too. Now I am simply glad to have finished it, and will not be reading the second volume.
In essence the books sets out Russell's private life in a lot of detail, and hence with a lot of repetition. My hope that Monk would do a decent job at sketching Russell's philosophical program and prosecution of it was stymied. This was especially suprising after reading Monk's Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius so many years ago. Wittgenstein's Poker this is not.
Moreover the historical framing is repetitive and shallow; it would've helped to expand on how distant an aristocrat such as Russell was from the working class in the late Victorian age, as it would have provided a useful context for evaluating his political views, as well as furnished some idea of what possibilities and constraints his life held.
On the positive side, Monk does explore the contradictions in Russell's thinking, theory and practice, such as setting his crusade to put philosophy on a scientific basis (as Kant argued for, albeit for a different agenda) against his relatively naive approach to political philosophy. Russell did, however, interpret his experiences in what would later be the historically correct way; his writings on the soullessness of Russia after the Bolshevik revolution were an excellent contemporary account.
Ultimately even this single volume is over-long. Most frustrating is that his relationship with Wittgenstein is so shallowly treated. While it is not entirely a hatchet job, clearly Monk found the task onerous; the best quote I could find is from one of Wittgenstein's letters (p574 in my hardcover) apropos Russell's introduction to the Tractatus:
There's so much of it that I'm not quite in agreement with — both where you're critical of me and also where you're simply trying to elucidate my point of view. But that doesn't matter. The future will pass judgement on us — or perhaps it won't, and if it is silent that will be a judgement too.
This book sorely disappoints as a philosophical biography of one of the founders of modern philosophical logic. Time for something more lively.
At the Moonlight Cinema with Jen. A good evening for it, the only fine one wedged in a week of gray raininess.
Christmas came early to me. This movie remains as good as ever, closely observed and subtle with the sledgehammer. Watching it made me keenly aware of how long it has been since I've seen a truly excellent movie for the first time.
McLennan has written a few pieces for the Griffith Review which have tickled my fancy in the recent past. He's something of a modern-day Henry Lawson, with a keen eye for the prosaic and a good turn of phrase; specifically, though, he turns the tables on Lawson's channelling of the bush through English sensibilities by taking a view of the world at large that is essentially Australian.
The stories tend to be tough and blokey, with the odd admission of moral turpitude and fear, but no cowardice. There are many gaps in the stories, yielding a feeling that although a lot of drinking is recounted even more was elided. None of the stories really stood out from the others, although some stang sharply due to a close observation or vulnerability. An agreeable way to pass a weekend.