Friday, December 8, 2017

William Gass on Writing and Rewriting

William Gass died on December 6, 2017 at the age of 93. I was drawn to him (or his work) for all the wrong reasons, at least at the beginning. Like him, I taught at Purdue in the Philosophy Department for many years. Like him, I ultimately moved elsewhere. He taught "Greek Philosophy," I taught "German Philosophy with special emphasis on Kant." He became I writer, I didn't. But I really appreciate his essays, and I wish I could write the way he does [did].

Gass had to say the following about Purdue: "I was at Purdue [1955-1969], which was a good school if you were in engineering or things of that sort. It had a really weak humanities group. But by the time I left Purdue, there was tons of money, because of Sputnik, coming into the university for a period of time. We had a graduate program, but when I came to Purdue it was just two other guys, and the department was called “History, Government, and Philosophy.” I mean, it was just nothing. And when I left, it was a Ph.D. program. So it was lucky that it was an expanding program." So much for Gass. I was myself hired by Purdue in 1983. It was—and is—still a good school "if you are in engineering." Philosophy was—and is—a relatively strong department in the Humanities.

About his writing process he said: "Something gets on paper, and then it gets revised, and then it gets revised, and then it gets revised. And then I’m finally at the end." That also resonates with me, though I find it hard to determine when I am "at the end."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Foucault on Index Cards

There is a remark by Foucault on index cards that escaped me, even though I came across it several times. The Atlantic article referred I called attention to in the last post reminded me. Apparently, Foucault "ironically" remarked that the “appearance of the index card and the constitution of the human sciences: another invention little celebrated by historians.” in Discipline and Punish. It is not much of a remark—more like a throwaway line. It's true but trite, even though this book review claims that Foucault's "ironic remark" has been moot by Markus Krajewski's on work on index cards.

In researching whether there was anything more substantial in Foucault's attention to index cards, I came across this passage in a book:
Foucault had [sic] often been accused by critics of being cavalier in his research. The French historian Jacques LĂ©onard asks in relation to Discipline and Punish for example: When a philosopher engages with historians, they wonder ... whether he is a sufficiently erudite scholar to dare to talk this way: does he have enough index cards, are they comprehensive, well-catalogued? Are his files as thick as our own?
The author obviously thinks they are. I am less sure, but I would like to know more about whether Foucault used index cards, and if so, how?

On the History of the Index Card in the Atlantic

How the Index Card Cataloged the World. The claim is that "Carl Linnaeus, the father of biological taxonomy, also had a hand in inventing this tool for categorizing anything." It's interesting, but there is not much that is new in the article. It perpetuates false claims. See also History of the Index Card.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

One Dumb Note?

I know I got burned criticizing OneNote some time ago, but, I can't help my self. See here. Even if you like OneNote, it might be interesting reading.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Does Social Media Endanger Knowledge?

If you believe this article, knowledge is endangered by social media:
Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television’s values. From Facebook to Instagram, the medium refocuses our attention on videos and images, rewarding emotional appeals—‘like’ buttons—over rational ones. Instead of a quest for knowledge, it engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciouly performing. (It’s telling that, while Google began life as a PhD thesis, Facebook started as a tool to judge classmates’ appearances.) It reduces our curiosity by showing us exactly what we already want and think, based on our profiles and preferences. Enlightenment’s motto of ‘Dare to know’ has become ‘Dare not to care to know.’

It is a development that further proves the words of French philosopher Guy Debord, who wrote that, if pre-capitalism was about ‘being’, and capitalism about ‘having’, in late-capitalism what matters is only ‘appearing’—appearing rich, happy, thoughtful, cool and cosmopolitan. It’s hard to open Instagram without being struck by the accuracy of his diagnosis.
I believe all of this is essentially correct, but it is not knowledge that is endangered or threatened. Rather it is the role of knowledge in society. It is not that this threat is new, but rather that it has grown stronger. We will ignore it at our own peril, and, judging by recent developments, we will ignore it. And it will not be the first time.

Nabokov's Dream Diary on Index Cards

It's well know that Nabokov wrote many of his novels on index cards (see here). The Guardian reports that a 1964 dream diary of his will soon be published. It consists of 128 index cards like this:

Apparently, one of Nabokov's main purposes in recording his dreams was recording experiments in "backwards time flow," a rather questionable notion developed by John Dunne. His book An Experiment With Time presents the view that "the human mind has the ability to rove back and forth along the time-line so that precognition is a physical possibility."[1] Not surprisingly, Nabokov's dream diary fails to establish that possibility, but it does shed light on his own rather strange theories about time in the novel Ada, for instance.

I find his use of index cards more interesting than his musings about time.

1.The book can be had at Amazon. Before you buy it, you might also look here.

Friday, October 20, 2017

RedCircle in Gold

I wrote before of RedCircle pencils (aee here). I recently purchase RedCirle pensil in gold:

I do not know whether the innards of the pencil have changed from previous models or colors.

There is a very good review of redcircle pencils here. The main problem, as I see it, is this: "To keep the lead from falling out of the pencil when the button is clicked, there is just a random piece of rubber in the tip of the pencil. It is not glued or otherwise held in place, just resting in the tip of the pencil." I did not see any "discoloration due to oxidation (rusting)". The random piece of rubber presents a problem, if you take apart the pencil--I lost it.

I have been using the silver version without a problem for at least two years.