18-12-09 Weekly Links


Swan's Way - Marcel Proust

I must be some kind of idiot, because when I read about bored rich people being bored of boring situations, I don't quiver with excitement.



Decline and Fall - Evelyn Waugh

I got to the racist chapter, and that was a it for me.


Why bother trying to decode the author's intentions? Maybe he didn't mean it and was trying to say something about his characters? I tried to convince myself of that for the first few pages, but by the end of the chapter telling myself that would be nothing but wilful blindness. Maybe it was more acceptable back then - I almost always get a 'standards of the day' lecture when I write something like this - but does that mean we should shrug it off? Five years later Hitler was a quite popular writer and normal by the standards of the day.


Trash is trash, no matter how much you analyse it or pretend that seeing it through ten layers of witty detachment makes it any better.



Another Image From More English Fairy Tales


Cambridge History Of Ancient China

The Cambridge histories set a pretty high standard, and the volume on the Han Dynasty (also co-edited by Michael Loewe) has been one of my favourite books for many years. Aside from that, pre-Imperial China is an extremely interesting topic, so my expectations for this were high and I was extremely disappointed.

Many of the writers are competent. Some have an axe to grind or a personal pet theory to promote, which is poison to a book like this. The absolute low point is the chapter by David Nivison, and I have no idea why the editors didn't reject it. It's full of polemical claims about dating and composition for which he almost never provides evidence (aside from phrases like "most scholars consider", which doesn't even fly on Wikipedia). When he does hint at what evidence he's using, his reasoning is generally circular (we know text A was written in century B because it has idea C. We know idea C comes from century B because it is recorded in text A). He's also sassy and arrogant, which wouldn't have annoyed me if he had actually done the work.

The two best chapters are the are those on the Spring and Autumn period by Cho-yun Hsu and early imperial China's relationship to pre-imperial China by Michael Loewe. Aside from that, there are better ways of familiarizing yourself with most of these topics.



DC: The New Frontier, Volume 2

What starts off with a lot of potential turns into a checklist of DC heroes firing their lasers at a completely nondescript generic villain with no motivation. Will they fire their lasers hard enough? At first it seems like no they won't, but, in the end, yes they will.



Candide - Voltaire

This book is meant to make fun of Leibniz. It's fairly funny and I enjoyed it as a teenager, before I was familiar with Voltaire's other works.

Leibniz has a spotty record as a philosopher, but his contributions to mathematics go far beyond the calculus you normally hear about. His fingerprints are all over pure math and formal logic and computer science and computer hardware and engineering in general. Next time you're in an airplane and it doesn't crash, thank Leibniz twenty times over.

Voltaire, on the other hand, was a rich, sarcastic dickhead whose rants against Jewish and Black people were extremely racist even by the standards of the 18th century. Screw this book.



More English Fairy Tales - Joseph Jacobs
Click on this. It is beautiful.

I was looking for a neat little traditional poem that Wordsworth mentioned, and Google gave me this extremely lively mix of familiar and less-familiar stories. Jacobs does an excellent job of finding good stories and retelling them in his own voice.



The Clouds - Aristophanes

Socrates farts.