peteg's blog

John Kaag: American Philosophy: A Love Story.

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Kindle. The promising premise of this book is an examination of the roots of American pragmatic philosophy, which attempted to grapple directly with the classic problem of how we should live and what it means to be free. Kaag leads me to believe it's a bit dead now, killed by too much analysis, though it may just be resting.

Yes, this is a love story. I expected twists and turns, some mystery, but it seems that Kaag perfected his romantic skills on the second time around. The first parts canvas failure (perhaps underserved in American letters) and expresses his general dissatisfaction in spite of his success. Within the quotidian frame of putting William Ernest Hocking's library in order, Kaag smuggles capsule accounts of classical philosophies, which to my mind is the major weakness: these accounts, stripped of their argumentation and historical context, read as strong, unsupportable and occasionally ridiculous assertions. This evokes the current political climate, where my truth is at least as good as yours, and demonstrates what analytic philosophy had the knives out for.

Kaag is keen on joint works, on connections between people, on lauding women who were suppressed in their time and in history. He concludes that salvation (from what I don't know) is a social process, impossible to achieve alone, but doesn't pause to reflect on the selection bias that quietens those who might argue otherwise. I wasn't at all familiar with any of the American philosophers he mentioned; C. S. Peirce was previously just one of many names attached to the prehistory of modal logic to me, and Thoreau is pure epigram. There's some fun had with the idea of necessity, especially amongst the unattractive.

So, what is this? Confessions ala Henry Fool? A book length rumination on Bird on a Wire? At times it veered into Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance territory, especially as Thoreau et al's old-timey self-reliance is ploddingly recast into modern-day self-improvement. Annoyingly it seems likely that the original sources, for instance on Absurdism, succeed more thoroughly as both literature and philosophy than this text.

Mark Greif of n+1 fame reviewed it for the New York Times. He is right at home with too much affirmatory jargon.

Jarett Kobek: If You Won't Read, Then Why Should I Write?.

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In dead-tree format as Jarett Kobek does not seem to like ebooks very much. This one is slight: a survey of B-list celebrities who've gotten very light penalties for serious antisocial behaviour. It is of its time (2012) and hasn't aged well, at least if you weren't paying attention then. It's more an art project than something to actually read, but some seem to find a close parsing worthwhile.