Sunday, December 29, 2019

Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground (10): Richard Wright & Ralph Ellison

‘Are the underground men in the works of Wright and Ellison given the same psychological dimensions as those Dostoevsky achieves for his underground figure? The answer is “No,” because the latter two writers borrowed only those characteristics from the pioneer that would serve their purposes. Thus, while Dostoevsky’s undergrounder makes a strong case against the dictates of reason and the laws of nature, the underground men of Wright and Ellison welcome both in their attempt to find meaning in their existence.’

SOURCE: Hayes, Floyd W., III. “The Paradox of the Ethical Criminal in Richard Wright’s Novel The Outsider: A Philosopical Investigation,” Black Renaissance Noire, vol. 13, issue 1, Spring/Summer 2013, pp. 162-171. (Revision of paper prepared for the International Centennial Conference, Celebrating 100 Years of Richard Wright, The American University of Paris, Paris, France, June 19-21, 2008.)
See also:

Lucy Parsons: The Religion of Humanity

“The Christian civilization of Chicago ... permits the heart's blood of your children to be quaffed in the wine cups of the labor robbers. . . . Socialism is the 100-cents-on-the-dollar religion. (Cheers) . . . . We have heard enough about a paradise behind the moon. We want something now. [....] We are tired of hearing about the golden streets of the hereafter. What we want is good paved and drained streets in this world. [....] I want my immortality in this world, and if there is any in the next world we can look after that when we get there.”

       -- Lucy Parsons, “The Religion of Humanity,”
           speech delivered at A. R. Parsons Assembly No. 1
           of the Knights of Labor, Waverly Hall, January 23, 1889

SOURCE: Ashbaugh, Carolyn. Lucy Parsons: American Revolutionary (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1976) p. 170. For more on this speech and meeting see pp. 169-171.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Fan Zhen (3): Essay on the Extinction of the Soul

I mentioned in two previous posts that I learned of Fan Zhen (450 - 515 AD) via Esperanto, then sought-out English language sources. I have finally located a translation of a key essay, preceded by a biographical and political contextualization of Fan Zhen's intervention against Buddhism:

The First Chinese Materialist / Essay on the Extinction of the Soul (Etienne Balazs / Fan Zhen)

Fan Zhen's materialism is in his argument on the mind-body problem. As is historically the case in much of Chinese philosophical discourse, here there is a mixture of logical argument, anecdotal historical references, appeals to tradition and sages and other authorities. Fan Zhen links his argument against the persistence of the soul after death to the parasitism, otherworldly diversion, and false promises of Buddhist monks he alleges.

Friday, November 15, 2019

My Martin Gardner testimonial

The Martin Gardner Centennial was in 2014 and I commemorated it on this blog. I also submitted my own testimonial to the official web site and linked to it in this post:

Now I'd like to reproduce my contribution here:

Martin Gardner Testimonials: Testimonial 55: Ralph Dumain

As a teenager I discovered Martin Gardner in the 'Mathematical Games' column of the June or July 1967 issue of Scientific American, having innocently bought it at the corner drugstore on account of my boyhood interest in science. That column featured John Horton Conway’s game Sprouts. From then on I was hooked on Gardner’s columns and related books.

In his June 1968 column Gardner proposed a problem concerning Baker’s Solitaire, and followed up with readers’ solutions in subsequent issues. My name appeared with several others in the September 1968 issue. These acknowledgments were not included when the column was anthologized in Mathematical Magic Show: More Puzzles, Games, Diversions, Illusions and Other Mathematical Sleight-of-Mind from Scientific American in 1977.

Gardner’s columns radiated from the base of recreational mathematics to encompass quite a range of topics. Gardner stimulated my interest in the related hobby of abstract strategy board games, but that was only the beginning. Through Gardner I learned about the artist M.C. Escher, the 19th-century fad of four-dimensional space, anamorphic art, Raymond Llull (the godfather of the ars combinatoria), and numerous other fascinating topics reaching into obscure corners of intellectual history.

Gardner’s literary efforts were wide-ranging, but his other major claim to fame was his contribution to the 'skeptics' movement, decades before that movement was formally organized. I read Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science not long after I discovered Gardner. I returned to this book several times over the decades. I was never fully convinced of Gardner’s criteria for the demarcation of science and pseudoscience. In addition to dealing with obvious crackpots, he delved into fringe areas where rationality bleeds into irrationality, such as Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics, William Reich’s radical psychoanalysis and orgonomy, and Marshall McLuhan’s theory of the media. Still, the range of Gardner’s examples supplied a background I could draw upon throughout my adult life. This book can be said to have stuck with me, but I will forever be indebted to Gardner for all the wonders to which I was introduced via his work on recreational mathematics.

Like so many others I felt a serious loss when Gardner died. I paid tribute to him in my Reason & Society blog, in my podcast of July 19, 2010, and in my web guide to Board Games & Related Games & Recreations. Though my priorities have shifted over the decades, I can still say that Martin Gardner enhanced my life in a particular and unique way. He will always be remembered fondly."

         — Ralph Dumain, librarian and independent scholar, Washington, DC (22 May 2014)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Daoism update (2): from the Daodejing to Bertolt Brecht

Several of the links to web sites other than my own listed in my post Daoism update of 1 October 2010 are defunct, so here is my updated listing to external links, deleting a couple, adding a couple. There are a number of other relevant gateway sites on the web, probably some new ones since my last post. Consult the previous post for internal links, but start with those mentioned at the bottom of this post.

This list begins with some introductions to Daoism (Taoism) proper, and then to specific ideological uses of their concepts, with focus on their political artistic use by Bertolt Brecht.

Taoism Virtual Library

Tao Te Ching - Translation comparison


       Quotations / Zitate (Western thinkers on Laozi / Dàodéjing)

Daoism by Chad Hansen, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Daoist Alchemy in the West: The Esoteric Paradigms by Lee Irwin

Legend of the Origin of the Book Tao-Te-Ching on Lao-Tsu's Road into Exile (1938) by Bertolt Brecht

Peasant Dialectics: Reflections on Brecht's Sketch of a Dilemma by Antony Tatlow

Lao Tzu and the Apaches by Ioan Davies

Brecht's Use of Moism, Confucianism and Taoism in his Me-Ti Fragment by Gaby Divay

Brecht's Way (Brecht between Taoism and Marxism) adapted by David George

On my web site, begin with:

Taoism & the Tao of Bourgeois Philosophy (review of J. J. Clarke, The Tao of the West) by R. Dumain

Walter Benjamin on Bertolt Brecht’s Lao Tzu

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya: A Centenary Salute

"Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya: A Centenary Salute to Multifaceted Philosopher" by SK Pande, NewsClick, 05 Nov 2018

"A humanist, Marxist, staunch lover of reason, scientific temper and secularist to the core, Chattopadhyaya’s absence is greatly felt as secular India faces threats from Hindutva forces that strive to take the country back to the dark ages."

I have been familiar with the work of Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (19 November 1918 – 8 May 1993) for many years. Here are a couple items on my web site:

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction (Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1972 [orig. 1964]), chapter 28: Lokayata, pp. 184-199; notes, pp. 221-223.

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. “Science and Philosophy in Ancient India,” in Marxism and Indology, edited by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (Calcutta; New Delhi: K. P. Bagchi & Company, 1981), pp. 231-262.

And see:

Ramakrishna, G. "Some Loud Thinking About the Bhagavadgita," in Marxism and Indology, edited by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (Calcutta; New Delhi: K. P. Bagchi & Company, 1981), pp. 216-221.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

David Guest, aspiring to theory, killed in practice

"I have never felt so much the value of abstract things, of theory seen in its proper relation to practice, than just now. I think I can see things in their proper proportions. I have myself a lively and intense desire to explore whole fields of theoretical work, mathematical, physical, logical and far beyond these, when the conditions for this will become again possible."

-- Letter from Spain, David Guest, British communist mathematician, killed fighting fascism in Spain in 1938

SOURCE: Sheehan, Helena. Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1985, p. 347.

For more historical overview, see also my bibliography:

British Marxism in Philosophy, Science, and Culture Before the New Left: Essential Historical Surveys