Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lessons from Ferdydurke

Witold Gombrowicz's first novel Ferdydurke (1937) is hilarious and wonderful. It is full of strange incidents and funny words. Since I do not speak Polish well enough to read Gombrowicz in the original (bo to jest trudny język!), and since I saw a French copy in a used book store and bought it, my experience of Ferdydurke is through the French language. Gombrowicz lived in France at the end of his life, as you should already know, so perhaps he supervised the translation. In any case, it is excellent. The Polish word "pupa," which is usually left alone in English translations (I personally would render it as "tush"), is called in French "cucul," which is very silly and appropriate.

Ferdydurke, roughly, is a book about a writer who wakes up one day to find an established editor in his room, reading the manuscript of the novel he's been working on. The editor is not pleased with what he sees. "Your education has clearly been incomplete," the editor tells the writer, "and so we're sending you back to grade school." Thus the 30-year-old writer goes back to Grade 3, and quickly begins to live that life without incongruity. Because he is treated like a 10 year old, he begins to act like one, with hilarious consequences. (Much of Ferdydurke is clearly satirical of various schools and trends of Polish literature circa 1937; since I get none of the references, I am freer just to enjoy the silliness. Remove the apparatus! Hands off the tush!)

What I would like to present today is my original translation (from the French translation) of two passages from Chapter 4, "Philidor doublé d'enfant," or—as I would call it—"Philidor Pursued by his Infantile Double." This chapter is a very self-conscious semi-sequitir. It contains no plot content, but only about 20 pages of "literary criticism." The image it presents of a serious, ponderous WRITER being beaten by a pre-teen half-wit is one I often keep in my mind. It is also one I feel all writers, and particularly Canadian ones, should try to keep in theirs.

Here is the first passage. Gombrowicz is discussing the sorry state of pretentious "Semi-Shakespeares," and detailing their sad struggle to create serious art. A situation many of our Canadian genii no doubt recognize!
What does he want most, he who in our age has heard the call of the quill, or the paintbrush, or the clarinette? He wants above all else to be an artist. Create Art. He dreams of feeding on Truth, on Beauty, on the Good, of feeding the public, of becoming a priest or a prophet offering the treasures of his talents to famished humanity. Perhaps he also wants to offer up his talents to an idea or to the Nation. Noble goals! Magnificent intentions! Was this not the role of Shakespeare, or Chopin? But consider that there is still a small complication: you are not yet Chopins or Shakespeares, and you are not in fact yet fully artists or famous painters at all, and in the present phase of your evolution you are still only Semi-Shakespeares or Quarter-Chopins (oh, these horrid fractions!), and consequently your pretentious attitude reveals only your pathetic inferiority, and one could say that your want to force your way onto the monument’s plinth even to the peril of your most precious and most delicate organs.

Believe you me: there is a gaping void separating the fully-realized artist from the mass of semi-artists and quarter-prophets, who can only fantasize their accession. And what pleases a fully accomplished artist makes an entirely different impression on you. Instead of creating according to your own measure and by means of your own experience, you adorn yourselves with the plumes of peacocks, and so you remain apprentices, always awkward, always lagging behind, slaves and imitators, servants and admirers of Art, which leaves you tapping your fingers in the waiting room. It really is terrible to see how you press on without success, how each time you’re told that it’s not quite right, which only prompts you to try again with something else, how you try to push your meager efforts, how you hang on small successes, organize literary soirées, how you compliment one another, how you are always putting on new masks so as to disguise—from yourself as much as others—your pitiful mediocrity.
Here is Gombrowicz's solution to the dilemma:
Picture a venerable artist, mature and wise, who—perched above his blank page—is busily engaged in the act of creation, when all of a sudden who should climb on to his back but a pimply pre-teen or a half-wit, or a little girl, or any person at all with a foggy sensibility, worse than average, or any younger being, inferior or less intelligent. This being, this pimply pre-teen, this little girl or half-wit, or whatever other obscure product of a sad faux-culture, throws itself on his being, tussles with him, shrinks him, moulds him with the clutch of its massive paws, by squeezing him, by sniffing him, makes him younger with its own youth, contaminates him with its own immaturity and creates him after its own image, brings him down to its own level, takes him in its embrace! But the artist, instead of acknowledging the intruder, pretends not to have seen it and—strange thing!—believes he’ll best avoid its beatings by imagining he's not being beaten at all. You, you most esteemed of fourth-rate bards, is this not what happens to you? Do not all mature, superior, wizened beings depend in a thousand ways on others arrested at an inferior stage of their evolution? This dependence attains to the greatest depths, to the point where we could say “The wisest man is shot through with the stupidest youth.” When we write, must we not adapt ourselves to our audience? When we speak, do our words not depend on the person to whom they are directed? Are we not tragically smitten with youth? Must we not constantly court the favours of inferior people, accommodate ourselves to them, submit to their power or their charm—and this violence done us by inferior people, is it not utterly fruitful? But you, whatever your rhetoric, you have not really been able to keep your head buried in the sand—and your bookish, didactic intelligence, bloated with vanity, has not even come to this simple realization. So while in truth you are the victims of a continuous rape, you pretend that nothing of the sort is happening, yes, because, mature fellows, you fraternize only with mature fellows and your maturity will only fraternize with other maturities!

If you spent less time preoccupied with Art or the instruction or improvement of others—not to mention that of your own unprepossessing selves—you would never have remained indifferent before such a horrid rape, and for example a poet, instead of writing poetry for another poet, would feel himself penetrated and shaped from below by forces hitherto unapprehended. He would understand that it is only in recognizing them that he stands any chance of deliverance; he would do what he could to adapt his style and attitude, as much in art as in daily life, to the fact of his continual struggle with inferior forces. He would no longer feel himself a Father only, but at once Father and Son, he would write not only like an adult, a sage, a scholar, but more like a Sage constantly menaced by mindlessness, a Scholar ceaselessly brutalized, and an Adult caught in a perpetual process infantilization. And if in leaving his office he encountered a pre-teen or a half-wit, he would no longer slap their wrists with a defensive, pedagogical, didactic grimace, but would—overcome with saintly trembling—immediately begin to scream and groan, maybe even fall on his knees! Instead of fleeing from immaturity and quarantining himself in a refined milieu, he would understand that a truly universal style is one that can take in its loving embrace the most pitifully unevolved of creatures. This would end by leading you to a form of art so rich in inspiration that you would all become en masse the most powerful, most incomparable geniuses!
Generally the problem in our own culture is not a surplus but a lack of seriousness. What many producers of "culture" need to realize is that standing on their juvenile shoulders there is a serious, ambitious, rigorous old man trying to assert himself—and that ignoring him is not only profoundly unkind, but also detrimental to their art.

But for the serious literary youth of Canada—and even more so for the esteemed elders of "Can-Lit"—Gombrowicz's message requires no inversion. If there is one thing I could say to all Canadian writers (the young ones who write about smoking weed; the old ones who write about the tragedy of old age), it is that there is a stupid, pimply pre-teen on your back (he's wearing a beanie, holding a lollipop, and eating a hotdog!) and that you absolutely must recognize his existence, because as it stands he is beating you to death!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes

Witold Gombrowicz led an interesting, eventful life. He left Poland in 1939 and spent 24 years of self-imposed exile in Argentina. (Like the best prose stylist in the English language, Wyndham Lewis—who also left Europe in 1939—he was Self-Condemned.) He returned to Europe in the early 1960s, married a Canadian, and settled down on the French Riviera.

A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes is the last thing Gombrowicz did. The story is that, suffering from a heart condition (sick at heart!), he asked his friend Dominique de Roux (no relation to La Roux) to bring him a gun so that he could kill himself. She distracted him by asking for a course of philosophy, which is A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes. How very existentialist—philosophy instead of suicide!

Gombrowicz vs. Gaarder

Of course it is very silly to talk about Gombrowicz and Sophie’s World. Except for the fact that both books are about the exact same thing. And that Jostein Gaarder likes Gombrowicz and mentions him in his book, and is therefore (for we are what we read) a trustworthy fellow.

How are the two books different? Gaarder is a genius of gentle introductions—at passing the profound and simple insights of philosophy into our minds without any fuss. Gombrowicz is useless as an introducer. A quotation on the cover of the Yale edition of Six Hours says that it is “like the course in philosophy you wish you had taken.” Nonsense!

Gaarder’s genius is for setting his reader at her ease and gently initiating her into a neglected discipline. He is gentle and clear. Gombrowicz’s talent is for unsettling and amusing. Where Gaarder is always busy explaining something in a soothing, fatherly voice, Gombrowicz speaks in squeaky, compressed, disconnected bits. The opening words of the book, for example, are
Kant 1724-1804

Beginning of modern thought.
One could say that this is Descartes (beginning of 17th century).
Descartes: a single important idea: absolute doubt.
Here rationalism begins: subject everything to absolute doubt, until the moment when reason forces us to accept an idea.
(Basis for the phenomenology of Husserl)
—subject: thinking self
—object: opera glasses—table
—the idea of an object which forms in my consciousness.
The idea, I suppose, is that you should think for yourself—that you fill in the missing words and make the connections for yourself. Why are philosophers generally such awful writers? Perhaps because the idea of being “soothingly introduced to philosophy” is somewhat absurd. Philosophers believe you ought to work for their insights—or else you haven't really experienced them!

Gombrowicz, of course, can write exactly as well as he wants. He is a sublime prose stylist, at least in his excellent translations, of which I’m sure he could at least vouch for the French, which he spoke. No doubt he wrote Six Hours this way for the reason outlined above. Which is all very well. But I would still, acknowledging the contradiction, steer the curious novice toward Gaarder’s work.

What It’s Good For

Yes, Gombrowicz is a sublime writer! I will write again before the end of the week about Ferdydurke, and its hilarious and profoundly un-Canadian theory of art. But before doing that, the answer to the question, why read Gombrowicz’s introduction to philosophy when it is useless as an introduction to philosophy?

Because, prompted by his reflection on philosophers, Gombrowicz says a lot of interesting things—especially about art and artists.

On Schopenhauer (who is not mentioned—cannot be mentioned, perhaps!—in Sophie’s World):
Schopenhauer said much on the subject of genius, for example that the genius cannot live normally; the artist always has an obstacle which prevents him from living: illness, abnormality, infirmity, homosexuality, etc.

(Intelligent men are highly sensitive to noise). Me, personally, I interpret this by the fact that we sense better what we lack. Example: a cavalry officer does not even realize that he is healthy, whereas an invalid like Chopin has an acute notion of health.
For those incapable of life, like A. N. Swick, encouraging words!
Myself, I attach the highest importance to antinomy in art. An artist must be that and its opposite. Mad, disorganized but also disciplined, cold, rigorous. Art is never a single thing, but is always compensated by its opposite.
How very true! What fools “committed writers” are!

Gombrowicz is attracted by contradictions and irresolvable cruces (that’s 2+ crux-es). The “profound and simple” thought of which he is most fond is this: as objects, we have mass and exist objectively; but our subject-hood, our subjectivity, our selves, weigh nothing, do not correspond to the laws of material existence. (Wasn’t there a movie called 19 Grams or something, explaining the soul as having that weight?)

This is how Gombrowicz explains Existentialism, the subject in connection to which he is mentioned in Sophie’s World:
I do not agree with the superficial judgments for which existentialism is a trend. Existentialism is a consequence of a basic fact of the internal rupture of consciousness which is manifested not only in man’s inherent qualities, but—extremely curious fact—is evident in physics for example, where you have two ways of perceiving reality:


Example: theories of light.

Now, both theories are right, as experience demonstrates, but they are contradictory. You have the same phenomenon, but they are contradictory. You have the same phenomenon in the physics concept concerning electrons, where there are two different ways of seeing them, both of which are correct and contradictory. Now, in my view, man is divided between the subjective and the objective, irreparably and for all time. This is a kind of wound we have which is impossible to heal, and of which we are more and more conscious. In a number of years, it will be even “bloodier,” since it can only grow with the evolution of consciousness.
But has consciousness stopped evolving? Are we all feeling much better as a result?

Gombrowicz explains the unpopularity of Schopenhauer partly through his aristocratic aspect—“For Schopenhauer, there are mediocre men and superior men. He insulted the mediocre ones.” Gombrowicz also insults them! Discussing the future of Marxism:
If the upper class remains as stupid and blind as it is now, and if it relinquishes power to the masses, then we must prepare for a period of regression which will last until the production of a new, strong upper class. But if the right stands firm and does not allow that “guilty conscience,” which is actually typical of Marxists, to be imposed on it, then the matter can be resolved by huge galloping advancements in technology, which, according to my rough calculations, can radically change the world in twenty or thirty years. We shall have little wings to fly...
Attached with wax!

It is also to Gombrowicz’s credit (who was married to a Canadian) that he insults Canada. Discussing Nietzsche:
This opposition between Apollo and Dionysus still appears today. Example: Beethoven. Nietzsche considers pessimism to be a weakness, condemned by life and optimism, a superficial (Canadian!) thing.
Before the week is out, readers, let us consider what Gombrowicz can tell us about our superficial, Canadian selves!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Goodbye, Wordpress

Oh, I suppose thought it would be "cool" to have a my "writer's blog" on "wordpress," which sounds literary. But it's a sort of disingenuous name anyway. It pays homage to the 2,000-year history of printing presses and printed words by working to end it.

Well, it was a mistake. Wordpress is awful. The interface is bad, the layout was depressing, images were difficult to manage. Every time you placed your cursor above a link or image an obnoxious preview startled you by jumping out. I wasn't allowed to edit my CSS. I didn't feel like myself anymore.

Now I am here, and I feel much better. My name is up there in a nice colour and in Futura, instead of in black and in—oh, I don't know—Georgia or something. I can control the width. I have absolutely no toolbars anywhere. Things are light and lively and clean. Ah, I feel like posting about—Almodovar—or Wes Anderson!

At least I had a better name over there at All the good names here are taken. My alter ego,, writes about computers. is some sort of a scam. belongs to (but is not used by) a sensitive-looking fellow who is a pretty good photographer but a terrible caption-writer.

So answick it is. A. N. Swick. Adam Nathaniel Hawthorne Swick. The answick to the unanswickable question, "Who is A. N. Swick?" "Christ, I'm feeling swick!" "Pardon me, did you say 'sick' or... 'swick'?" "I have a lisp, you cur! And I happen to be very swick!" I'm one of those awful people who insist on using "an" as the indefinite article before words beginning with H, but have also started also using it before S. "It is an historic occasion. The first time that an swick has emerged autochtonously from a clump of hot dirt!" I'm a line of obnoxiously colloquial dialogue: "Cugger drappt 'is cannel ans' wick gat browke."

In any case, Blogspot, hello! And, Thank you!

Hungarian Bathrooms and Toilets

Rather than proceeding directly to Gombrowicz, I have decided to take a detour into Hungary, to explore its delightful bathrooms and toilets.

Where do baby children come from? In my case, the answer is Hungary. For the four months before I was born, I was living in the capital city of that small Central European country, using its toilets.

There are many things I feel I could tell you about Hungary, the Hungarian language, and the Hungarian people. But most of it is contained in these two observations.

#1: The Three-Chambered Hungarian Bathroom

What I have to say about Hungarian Bathrooms will proceed in several stages.

Imagine that you are me. You are in Hungary and don’t speak Hungarian, but you want some of their reputedly delicious crêpes, which they call palacsintak. You go to a palacsinta house, order some, and eat them. Then you need to go to the bathroom.

Stage Zero: The Door

I walked up to the door, as depicted above. I noticed right away that there was a lot of writing on the door of the bathroom. There was sign after sign, handwritten on differently coloured paper, presumably warning the user against various hazards. I did not understand any word but “Coca Cola,” which didn’t seem relevant, but didn’t dissuade me. I proceeded to Stage One.

Stage One: The Sink

I entered the door. It was a small white room with a sink and a mirror. Right away I noticed that a woman was in it. So this was a unisex bathroom. It was too small for two people, so I returned to my seat. I waited for her to leave.

Stage Two: The Urinal

I kept watch until she had left, and I got up and entered the door before anyone else could get in. I locked the door behind me.

I was once again in the small white room with the sink and the mirror. There was one door leading from it. Nothing was written on it. I walked through the door and entered a second small, white room. It had a urinal in it. I locked the door behind me and began to pee. Then something unexpected happened.

Stage Three: The Toilet

I was standing up and peeing into the urinal. Something I ought to have noticed but did not was that there was a second door leading from the urinal room to a third room, of uncertain content. As a was peeing, the content of that third room—an old woman—opened this door and entered the room where I was peeing.

Please try to visualize this situation. I was standing up, peeing, having twice locked myself into the bathroom. Then, suddenly, from a room whose existence I had not even slightly suspected, an old woman entered and saw me peeing.

Now please try to imagine the situation of the old woman. She was peeing in a toilet room. To get in to this room she had entered the Sink Room, passed through the Urinal Room because it was of no use to her, and finally entered the Toilet Room, probably locking its door behind her. Now she was doubly locked into a room with a man (me) who was standing and peeing.

Such is the strange and confusing state of certain bathrooms in Hungary.

#2: The Hungarian "Show-Me" Toilet

Gentle reader please take note: The picture on the right is not of poop in a Hungarian toilet. The toilet is Hungarian. But that’s kale or seaweed or something in the toilet. I mistakenly bought it thinking it was spinach—a mistake I made because Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language, and words sound nothing like anything I’d heard before, and I just grabbed something green and frozen and hoped for the best. I disposed of the kale or seaweed by flushing it down the toilet—but not before taking that picture, which I knew would come in handy some day for a discussion of Hungarian toilets. (I have changed it to black and white in deference to the sensitive among you.)

The toilet in my apartment in Hungary (pictured at right) was extremely strange. I am told that this toilet-design is not exclusive to Hungary—that other Central and perhaps Eastern European countries also use it. I also know for a fact that many toilets in Hungary correspond to the design with which I am more familiar from life in Canada. There is every chance, for example, that the Old Woman in the story above had just been sitting on a perfectly normal toilet. But I have only twice encountered such a toilet as the one under discussion, and both times it was in Hungary, and this time I had to deal with it for four straight months.

One of the American states—I don’t remember which—is called “The Show-Me State.” The Hungarian toilet design here discussed might be appropriately called “The Show-Me Toilet.”
Instead of peeing or pooping into a little pond of water, as is normal in the West, the Hungarian design has you do this onto a little shelf. There is perhaps half a centimeter of water on this shelf, so that if you do happen to poop, your poop sits almost fully exposed on this shelf—“like a patient etherized upon a table,” as an American poet (is Missouri the Show-Me State?) once said.

Bill Cosby has a famous bit about disappearing poop. You’re doing your business, then you’re done, and then you look into the toilet, and your poop is mysteriously vanished. Apparently the Hungarian toilet has been designed specifically to preclude the occurrence of this disturbing event. Your poop has nowhere to hide. It cannot even bathe.

It’s a no-nonsense (I would have said “no-bullshit”) way of treating poop. You just put it on the shelf. Since it’s not underwater, you can not only see it in all its ugly unrefracted three-dimensionality, but you can also smell it far more than usual. It’s the “gritty reality” of which Hungarians are so fond.
The next step is to pull the lever or push the button that releases a jet of water. This jet is supposed to push the poop into the hole, from which it drains into the abyss of the Hungarian Sewage System (a topic, thankfully, I know nothing about.)

The catch is that this jet seldom performs its duty efficiently. This is because the “shelf” is not perfectly flat but slightly cupped. As a result your poop must first clear a “lip” before it can pass into the abyss. It would be too simple to just let it fall straight into the hole. It would be pandering to poop. And it would be too easy for the person pooping to just press the button and leave the room without contemplating what he or she has done.

So you must stand there, depressing the lever, watching your poor poop struggle in the stream of rushing water, desperately spinning away, trying against all odds to vault over the lip and pass into the hole.

Sometimes it simply doesn’t work. After irritating your neighbours with rushing water for half a minute and filling the bathroom with a clean, chloriney, water smell, you have to take some toilet paper in your hand, and actually push the poop over the precipice.

Toilets, it seems to me, exist so that we never have to do this.

Such is the topsy-turvy state of some toilets in Hungary.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sophie's World

Part I: What It Says

How have I, Adam Swick, a three-day-old child, not only learned to read, but actually read such a long book as Sophie’s World? How is it that, despite my young age, I have decades of memories to draw on in the following discussion? How come I’m so small and made of paper? Why am I wearing shorts—is it not winter in Canada?

No answers exist to these questions! They are mysteries. Let us marvel at them!

This is what Sophie’s World says. There are mysteries everywhere. Let us marvel at them! If we do not (a) recognize them and (b) marvel at them, we are fools. A profound and simple message!

Part II: Why It Is So Good (Part A)

A two-part answer: because philosophy is good, and because it (they!) gave me good dreams.

Let’s imagine that I was once a high school student in the province of Ontario, and that I graduated without knowing anything about philosophy. I knew a lot about Physics and Chemistry, which had succeeded in implanting in my malleable mind such concepts as entropy and the convertibility of matter into energy—concepts capable of producing the above-mentioned experience of marvel. I experienced this “oceanic feeling” (let us rather call it “lakey”) now and then. I remember that when I was feeling unhappy, I would recall how tiny I was in the universe, and what a strange thing it was that I existed at all, and then I’d feel better.

But not until I read Sophie’s World—not until I was past high school—did I properly marvel. This is a book written for fifteen-year-olds. I believe that the effect it has on educationally-deprived twenty-year-olds, as I was then, is even stronger. Imagine being fifty or sixty and encountering Plato’s cave allegory for the first time? I think it would come as a significant shock.

Reading about Plato’s cave came as a significant shock to my twenty-year-old brain. It’s as if there are certain thoughts that one is supposed to have in one’s life. When you have them, the Creator looks proudly down on you, checks something on your file, and tries to reward you. (It is at moments like these that you feel the world may suddenly collapse into a spray of confetti, and a man with a microphone will approach and ask how it feels to have graduated to the next stage of existence.) My reward was an incredibly good dream. I don’t remember what the dream was about, but I remember a full night of excitement and activity. My brain tingled.

I then fell into the habit of reading one chapter before bed each night. I never had a dream quite as good as the one after learning about Plato. But every night I had that same tingling-brain sensation. I think the next-strongest was after the chapter on Darwin, about whom I naturally already knew a lot, without knowing it in such a way that it would give me good dreams.

Why is Sophie’s World so good (Part A)? Because many intelligent people know nothing about philosophy, and it is capable of telling these people about it. Philosophy is capable of giving you interesting thoughts—thoughts which our brains are eager for us to have. As a result, the hedonistic pleasure of good dreams.

Part III: Why It Is So Good (Part B)

Sophie’s World is not just good for what it says. It is also good for the way it tells us about philosophy.

First, it is clearly written. Here is a strange thing about philosophy: it contains these tiny little thoughts, like “perhaps the world of experience is all illusion, and reality is elsewhere”; or, “in a world without God, I must take responsibility for all my actions.” These are simple thoughts that our brain craves for. But philosophers are often unable to express these simple thoughts. They have achieved nothing if they cannot convey their ideas to other people. But so often (Hegel! Heidegger!) they are such terrible writers that it falls to others to explain them.

Jostein Gaarder is an excellent writer. Perhaps, because he is writing for fifteen-year-olds, he can simplify a bit too much. But generally, I do not think this is at all the case. He explains clearly without condescending. And he has a genius for examples and for illustrations. For example, the image of the universe as a magic trick. A rabbit is drawn out of a hat. Each of us is born on the very tip of the rabbit’s fur, where this incredible trick is visible in all its mystery. But as we age we begin to settle into the base of the fur-shaft, where it is warm and comfortable, but where the magic trick is invisible. This is the “bourgeois” mentality. Philosophers climb to the top of the fur-shaft, and seek to stare directly into the eyes of the Creator.

What a fine image! It contains as strong a moral idea as Kant’s categorical imperative.

There is also the strange narrative involving Sophie and Alberto, Hilde and Albert. It was mostly out of curiosity about this framing narrative that I re-read the book in the last little while (since the time of my birth as Adam Swick.) I don’t think there is a better, more sensible use of meta-fiction in any book than the metafictional element in Sophie’s World. As reason begins to become aware of itself as reason in the history of philosophy, Sophie and Alberto begin to become aware of themselves as characters in a book. It’s tremendously clever! I know people who become bored of this book before they reach the “plot twist” around the time of the Enlightenment. I think the danger post-twist is of being too curious about what will happen with Hilde to pay attention to the discussions of Hegel, Kierkegaard, Darwin, Freud, etc.

The thing that interests me most in this weird story, though, is a question that the Major never answers. Why does Alberto Knox (what a terrible name!) suddenly start sending Sophie a course on philosophy? We know why Albert Knag writes his book for Hilde. He wants to teach his fifteen-year-old daughter to experience mystery and to marvel at it. But how come he doesn’t have Sophie’s father (a sailor seldom at home) send her the philosophical primers? After a while, Sophie’s father completely disappears—we know that he is unhappy in his marriage, and it is left there. What does it mean for some strange, badly-named, bearded forty-year-old to suddenly start sending philosophical notes to a fifteen-year-old, and meet with her in the forest and in his apartment? How does he know Sophie? How does he know she’ll be such a fine student? What does he hope to achieve? This man would be arrested and jailed if he tried to do this in real life—and perhaps with reason. One seldom educates for no purpose.

Sophie’s World is clearly written, but not childish! The narrative is tremendously interesting.

Part IV: How We Know We Can Trust Jostein Gaarder

I have heard many pretentious people dismiss Sophie’s World. They probably think Jostein Gaarder is a fool.

Let me tell you, he is no fool. All of the above can be cited as proof. But there is much simpler proof than this. Look in the index. Look under G. Gombrowicz is in the index. Would a fool put Gombrowicz in his book?

I am going to write one more post about philosophical primers. In the next week I will write about Polish writer and incomparable genius Witold Gombrowicz, and his little tiny book, A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Decade of Swick

Take note, you tiny, stupid, newborn Decade!

Adam Swick is born this day!