The case of Norman Douglas

He was a literary lion and an infamous pederast: what might we learn from his life about monstrosity and humanity? Rachel Hope Cleves is a historian and professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. She is the author of The Reign of Terror in America: Visions of Violence from Anti-Jacobinism to Antislavery (2009), Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America (2014) and Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality (2020). Her current project is titled ‘A Historian’s Guide to Food and Sex’.  Edited by Sam Haselby The British writer Norman Douglas was so famous during his lifetime (1868-1952) that he frequently turned up as a … Continue reading The case of Norman Douglas

The Stoic Antidote to Frustration: Marcus Aurelius on How to Keep Your Mental Composure and Emotional Equanimity When People Let You Down

The art of tempering your fury with an infuriating existential truth. BY MARIA POPOVA The vast majority of our mental, emotional, and spiritual suffering comes from the violent collision between our expectations and reality. As we dust ourselves off amid the rubble, bruised and indignant, we further pain ourselves with the exertion of staggering emotional energy on outrage at how reality dared defy what we demanded of it. The remedy, of course, is not to bend the reality of an impartial universe to our will. The remedy is to calibrate our expectations — a remedy that might feel far too … Continue reading The Stoic Antidote to Frustration: Marcus Aurelius on How to Keep Your Mental Composure and Emotional Equanimity When People Let You Down

Phantasia

Imagination is a powerful tool, a sixth sense, a weapon. We must be careful how we use it, in life as on stage or screen Paul Giamatti is a theatre, film and television actor living in New York City. Some of his notable performances feature in the HBO TV series John Adams (2008), the Showtime TV series Billions (2016-), and the films American Splendor (2003) and Sideways (2004). Stephen T Asma is professor of philosophy at Columbia College Chicago and a member of the Public Theologies of Technology and Presence programme at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California. He is the author of many books, including The … Continue reading Phantasia

Gertrude Stein on Writing and Belonging

“Everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves to tell what is inside themselves.” BY MARIA POPOVA “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all,” Maya Angelou told Bill Moyers in their fantastic forgotten conversation about freedom. Beneath the surface of this paradoxical sentiment is a kind of koan, simple yet profound, replete with layered truth for those of us living expatriated lives — expatriated from a place or a culture, in space or in time. Two generations before Angelou, Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874–July 27, 1946), living out her … Continue reading Gertrude Stein on Writing and Belonging

Alan Watts on Love, the Meaning of Freedom, and the Only Real Antidote to Fear

“You cannot think simultaneously about listening to the waves and whether you are enjoying listening to the waves.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Fearlessness is what love seeks,” Hannah Arendt wrote in her superb 1929 meditation on love and how to live with the fundamental fear of loss. “Such fearlessness exists only in the complete calm that can no longer be shaken by events expected of the future… Hence the only valid tense is the present, the Now.” Half a century before her, Leo Tolstoy — who befriended a Buddhist monk late in life and became deeply influenced by Buddhist philosophy — echoed … Continue reading Alan Watts on Love, the Meaning of Freedom, and the Only Real Antidote to Fear

Reading John Gray in war

As a soldier, I was hard-wired to seek meaning and purpose. Gray’s philosophy helped me unhook from utopia and find peace Andy Owen is the author of All Soldiers Run Away: Alano’s War: The Story of a British Deserter (2017). He is a former soldier who writes on the ethics and philosophy of war. He lives in London. Edited by Nigel Warburton ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’Blaise Pascal (1623-62) Ifirst read the English philosopher John Gray while sitting in the silence of the still, mid-afternoon heat of Helmand Province in Afghanistan. In Black Mass: … Continue reading Reading John Gray in war

How Reading Is Like Love: Italo Calvino on the Ecstasy of Surrendering to Other Dimensions of Experience

“Lovers’ reading of each other’s bodies… differs from the reading of written pages in that it is not linear… What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space.” BY MARIA POPOVA “I function only by falling in love: with French and France; with the 15th Century; with microbiology, cosmology, sleep research,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her daybook, capturing the necessary passion that makes writing akin to falling in love. But reading is where the parallel begins. Some of us read in order to … Continue reading How Reading Is Like Love: Italo Calvino on the Ecstasy of Surrendering to Other Dimensions of Experience

Pause. Reflect. Think

Susan Stebbing’s little Pelican book on philosophy had a big aim: giving everybody tools to think clearly for themselves Peter West is a teaching fellow in Early Modern philosophy at Durham University in the UK.Listen here Edited by Nigel Warburton ‘There is an urgent need today for the citizens of a democracy to think well.’ These words, which could have been written yesterday, come from Thinking to Some Purpose, a popular book by the British philosopher Susan Stebbing, first published in 1939 in the Penguin ‘Pelican’ books series, with that familiar blue-and-white cover. This little book, which could easily be slipped into … Continue reading Pause. Reflect. Think

Einstein on the Political Power of Art

“Nothing can equal the psychological effect of real art — neither factual descriptions nor intellectual discussion.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Tyrants always fear art because tyrants want to mystify while art tends to clarify,” Iris Murdoch wrote in her arresting 1972 address on art as a force of resistance. “Those who tell you ‘Do not put too much politics in your art,’” Chinua Achebe told James Baldwin in their superb forgotten conversation at the close of that decade, “are the same people who are quite happy with the situation as it is… What they are saying is don’t upset the system.” A generation earlier, … Continue reading Einstein on the Political Power of Art

The wisdom of surrender

Samuel Beckett turned an obscure 17th-century Christian heresy into an artistic vision and an unusual personal philosophy Andy Wimbush teaches 20th-century and contemporary literature at the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge. He specialises in the study of Samuel Beckett and the relationship between literature, religion and philosophy. He is the author of Still: Samuel Beckett’s Quietism (2020). Edited by Sam Dresser Samuel Beckett’s writing often seems to have a religious air about it. Take his most famous play, Waiting for Godot (1953). Two Chaplinesque tramps – Vladimir and Estragon – wait at a crossroads by a tree for someone who might … Continue reading The wisdom of surrender