A Stoic’s Key to Living with Presence: Seneca on Balancing the Existential Calculus of Time Spent, Saved, and Wasted

Seneca “Lay hold of to-day’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon to-morrow’s. While we are postponing, life speeds by. Nothing… is ours, except time.” BY MARIA POPOVA “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard wrote in her abiding insistence on choosing presence over productivity. But how do we really spend our days? In our era, the average human lifetime will contain two years of boredom, six months of watching commercials, 67 days of heartbreak, and 14 minutes of pure joy. This devastating arithmetic of time wasted versus time meaningfully spent may … Continue reading A Stoic’s Key to Living with Presence: Seneca on Balancing the Existential Calculus of Time Spent, Saved, and Wasted

What nature is — according to philosopher Alan Watts

image edited by F. Kaskais Philosopher Alan Watts thoughts on the the all-pervading presence of nature. by Mike Colagrossi Alan Watts explores the arbitrary distinction between artificiality and what is considered natural. He lays out three unique ways of viewing the world through different world philosophies and sciences. Humanity is not a separate entity from nature, but an intellectual disconnect makes us feel that we are. A lot of times people talk about getting back to nature and connecting with something more primal and real. Often this evokes images of verdant forests, landscapes of unbounded “natural” scenes cascading from all … Continue reading What nature is — according to philosopher Alan Watts

Walt Whitman’s Guide to a Thriving Democracy

Filip Peraić America had a mind shaped by its Founders, but the country needed the poet to discover its spirit. by MARK EDMUNDSON Walt whitman, who was born 200 years ago this year, is almost certainly the greatest American poet. In many ways, he is also the most enigmatic. Before 1855, the year that Whitman published Leaves of Grass, he had achieved no distinction whatsoever. He had no formal education—no Oxford, no Cambridge, no Harvard or Yale. His life up to his 35th year had been anything but a success. He’d been a teacher, but he was loose and a bit indolent, … Continue reading Walt Whitman’s Guide to a Thriving Democracy

Where Reasons End and the Trickiness of Stories About Suicide

KIRK AND SONS OF COWES / GETTY IMAGES Unlike many other works on the subject, Yiyun Li’s latest novel steadfastly refuses to dwell on questions of why. by BRIT TROGEN “And if there is another end beyond the dead end, it cannot be called dead, can it?”In Yiyun Li’s novel Where Reasons End, an unnamed narrator converses with her teenage son, Nikolai, in the months following his death by suicide. This question, posed by the narrator, is one of many attempts by a grieving mother to make sense of losing her son by interrogating language itself. Throughout the book, she ruminates on … Continue reading Where Reasons End and the Trickiness of Stories About Suicide

The Coming Victory of Democracy: Thomas Mann on Justice, Human Dignity, and the Need to Continually Renew Our Ideals

Art by Salvador Dalí from a rare 1969 edition of Alice in Wonderland “To come close to art means to come close to life, and if an appreciation of the dignity of man is the moral definition of democracy, then its psychological definition arises out of its determination to reconcile and combine knowledge and art, mind and life, thought and deed.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive,” Zadie Smith wrote in her stirring essay on optimism and despair. But what does the reinvention, reassertion, and survival … Continue reading The Coming Victory of Democracy: Thomas Mann on Justice, Human Dignity, and the Need to Continually Renew Our Ideals

Nietzsche and the Cynics

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) on his sickbed, 1899. Oil sketch on cardboard by Hans Olde. Photo Goethe-Nationalmuseum, Weimar/AKG How Friedrich Nietzsche used ideas from the Ancient Cynics to explore the death of God and the nature of morality by Helen Small is professor of English literature at the University of Oxford, and a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. Her most recent book is The Value of the Humanities (2013). She lives in Oxford. Edited by Nigel Warburton Ancient Cynicism was an eccentric model for practising a philosophical life. Diogenes of Sinope (c404-323 BCE) and his followers claimed independence from conventional material desires and the normal turmoil … Continue reading Nietzsche and the Cynics

The Source of Self-Regard: Toni Morrison on Wisdom in the Age of Information

Toni Morrison illustrated by Katy Horan from Literary Witches — a celebration of trailblazing women writers who have enchanted and transformed the world. “We move from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. And separating one from the other… knowing the limitations and the danger of exercising one without the others, while respecting each category of intelligence, is generally what serious education is about.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Information will never replace illumination,” Susan Sontag prophesied shortly before her death, before the birth of the social media newsfeed, as she considered the conscience of words and writer’s responsibility to society. A generation earlier, long … Continue reading The Source of Self-Regard: Toni Morrison on Wisdom in the Age of Information