Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happines is the Place Where Nothing Bad Ever Happens

For sure, we live in a material world and guided by our senses, but within us a spiritual being is always yearning to re-channel our sense perceptions into a realm of happiness.

For sure, pleasure is around us and always trying to please our senses, but our spiritual being yearns for a higher pleasure, a pleasure that leads us to success and much happiness for a life well-lived.

The only requirement to achieve success and happiness is that we accept this realm as if it was a self-evident truth—a spiritual axiom. Happiness through human auto-realization begins with this simple fact: it is always there, and it is as certain as the animate and inanimate things we observe around us.

When Thomas Jefferson was drafting the American Declaration of Independence, his first draft included these words: “We hold these truths to be sacred…” Benjamin Franklin, in an attempt to keep the document free of religion (though the word Creator could not be avoided) persuaded Jefferson to change the phrase to read: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

So there’s nothing new in affirming that the pursuit of happiness is a lofty goal that goes beyond material rewards, and that it exists.

Man —mortal being that he is— has the privilege of enjoying many physical pleasures: money, affection, love, possessions, fame, glory, and other rewards which are but of a temporary nature. We see them all around us and at all times. Yet happiness transcends materiality; it conquers time and space.

Our spiritual development depends first of all in accepting that our happiness is lasting, permanent, and unchanging, for in the realm of the spirit change, mutation, space and time are surpassed.
While art may please our senses and –at times— transports us temporarily into a realm of bliss, this oceanic feeling will soon wane, leaving us empty, devoid of continuous enjoyment. In contrast, spiritual bliss is lasting, for it makes us whole, engulfing us with a sublime feeling of goodness.
Happiness is indeed goodness. In the realm of happiness nothing bad ever happens! No disasters, catastrophes, or atrocities ever mar the realm of happiness.

Truman Capote, a much underrated writer, wrote a novelette entitled Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In this novel the heroine Holly Golightly loves to visit the famed 5th Avenue super jewelry store. Although many scholars, critics, and commentators have reviewed the novel and the film by the same name, no one that I know has commented on what –to me at least—is the moral lesson of the book: that in that super jewelry store –Tiffany’s—nothing bad ever happens there.

It is there where Holly finds happiness. And we all carry in our hearts our own Tiffany’s: in a good heart nothing bad ever happens.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Henry James on Flaubert, Maupassant, and Stendhal

Henry James: Introduction by Marciano Guerrero

Brief Biography

The American author Henry James (1843-1916) was one of the major novelists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He was born in New York City into a family of intellectuals: his father was a theologian, and his brother —William James— was an eminent psychologist and philosopher.
He was privately tutored in London, Geneva, and Paris. His American education began at school in Newport, R.I. James entered Harvard Law School in 1862, leaving after a year. In 1864 his family settled in Boston and then in Cambridge.

While his brother William married and had five children, Henry remained a bachelor his entire life—or, as he has been described: “an old maid.” Loose tongues have even labeled him —without proof of any kind— gay.

Both England and the United States of America claim Henry James’ glory. James alternated between America and Europe for the first 20 years of his life, after which he settled in England, becoming a British subject in 1915, one year before his death.

His total production was prodigious. Among his most popular and favorites in many colleges’ reading lists are: The Ambassadors, The American, The Aspern Papers, Daisy Miller, The Portrait of a Lady, Roderick Hudson, The Turn of the Screw, and Washington Square.
Henry James on Flaubert, Maupassant, and Stendhal

Because Henry James knew Gustave Flaubert —personally— he was quite precise in his portrayal, as we read his “Introduction to Madame Bovary”:
“Tall, strong, striking, he caused his friends to admire in him the elder, the florid Norman type, and he seems himself, as a man of imagination, to have found some transmission of race in his stature and presence, his light-colored salient eyes and long tawny moustache.”

While James attempted to be a fair critic, readers can detect sharp and sour remarks about the three subjects of his reviews: Flaubert, Maupassant, and Stendhal. Yet the overall tenor of his approval seems to favor Flaubert. For other critics —such as Stendhal’s biographer Archibald Paton— James borders on the contemptuous; he can be not only acerbic, but also brutal in his attacks.

Despite the long-winded sentences, the essays presented here are easy to read. Unlike some of his soporific novels, these pieces of criticism are brisk, with just a few Dramamine patches.
To lighten up the pace for today’s readers, we have re-shaped the paragraphs, shortening them, and thus diminishing the tedious density of the original pages.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle


Introduction by Marciano Guerrero

Brief Bio of Thomas Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle (1757–1832), was born in Scotland. Carlyle was brought up as a strict Calvinist, and was educated at the village school. Later he prepped at an academy before he won a place at the University of Edinburgh.
In 1816 he obtained a position to teach Latin, French, arithmetic, bookkeeping, geometry, navigation and geography. In November 1818, suffering from depression, Carlyle resigned and returned to Edinburgh, where he met a Grace Welsh, a recent widow. With her help—she reviewed and criticized his writing—he developed as a writer. His admiration for Goethe induced him to translate some of Goethe’s masterpieces.
As his reputation grew, Carlyle started to receive commissions from The Edinburgh Review and The Foreign Review.
Thomas and Jane Carlyle moved to London, where he befriended John Stuart Mill and he had several articles published in his Westminster Review. Mill suggested that Carlyle should write a book about the French Revolution. When the book was published, Ralph Waldo Emerson arranged for it to be published in America.

About Sartor Resartus

What serious essays don’t accomplish, fiction often does. This is the case of Carlyle’s publication of Sartor Resartus, which established him as a social critic. The work was received with much confusion because of its unique literary style; never mind that not many people really understood the work.
The title of the work means "the tailor re-tailored" and highlights the main theme of the work: that social customs and religious and political institutions are merely the "clothing" of essential realities.
The book is a framed novel, with Carlyle assuming the role of editor, of the theories of the German Professor Diogenes Teufelsdröckh (devil's dung). Such theories the author calls a Philosophy of Clothes. Teufelsdröckh's philosophy holds that just as clothes go out of fashion, the same thing happen to ideas and institutions.  In other words: there’s such a thing as paradigm shifts. Consequently, if one doesn’t change clothes (symbols), the least one can do is to patch them up.
Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges in one of lectures says:
He tells the story of an ill-fated love, of a young woman who seems to love him then leaves him, leaving him alone with the night. Then he describes conversations with this imaginary philosopher, and gives long excerpts from a book that never existed called Sartor, the Tailor. And, as he is the one giving excerpts from that imaginary book, he calls the work “The Mended Tailor.”
Carlyle's employs a deliberate literary style that can be exasperating to many readers. The style is obscure, irreverent, odd, eccentric, and often just downright silly. Such literary aberrations offended discerning readers who found the work contained an atheistic vision and other pernicious ideas. Those who defended Carlyle, simply said that his intention was only to be an equal opportunity exposer or all systems, which he viewed as limiting and false.
Our translation eliminates the tedious typography (e.g., excessive capitalization), obscure words, and long paragraphing. In addition, we have included distinctive summaries for each chapter.
This first book (of 3) introduces the philosophy of clothes, while also introducing the philosopher Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, all based on the copious notes provided by the friend of the philosopher, Herr Heuschrecke.  From chapter 8 on, we find that the discussion takes a serious turn when dealing with the world of spirit and pure reason—which is Kant’s language.
The change in tone from playful and sarcastic to serious and deep is what injects a perennial vitality to the work.

Sartor Resartus de Thomas Carlyle


Introduction de Marciano Guerrero

Breve biografía de Thomas Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle (1757-1832) , nació en Escocia en una familia de estrictos calvinistas; y fue educado en la escuela pública del pueblo. Más tarde se preparó en una academia antes de ganar un lugar en la Universidad de Edimburgo.
En 1816 obtuvo un puesto para enseñar latín, francés, aritmética, teneduría de libros, la geometría, la navegación y la geografía. En noviembre de 1818, víctima de depresión, Carlyle renunció y regresó a Edimburgo, donde conoció a Jane Welsh, una viuda reciente. Con su ayuda—pues ella revisaba y criticaba sus escritos— el incipiente escritor llega a la madurez literaria. Su admiración por Goethe le indujo a traducir algunas de las obras maestras de Goethe.
A medida que su reputación crecía, Carlyle comenzó a recibir solicitaciones de artículos de las revistas
The Edinburgh Review y The Foreign Review.
Thomas y Jane Carlyle se trasladaron a Londres, donde se hizo amigo de John Stuart Mill, publicando varios artículos en la Westminster Review que Mill dirigía. Mill propuso que Carlyle debería escribir un libro sobre la Revolución Francesa. Cuando este libro se publicó, Ralph Waldo Emerson se esmeró e hizo arreglos para que se publicara también en los Estados Unidos.

Acerca Sartor Resartus

Lo qué ensayos serios no cumple en la diseminación de ideas, la ficción a menudo lo hace. Este es el caso de la publicación de Sartor Resartus, obra que estableció a Carlyle como un crítico social. La obra fue recibida con mucha confusión debido a su caprichoso estilo literario único, sin considerar que no muchas personas entendieron realmente el libro.
El título de la obra, El sastre remendado, pone en relieve el tema principal de la obra: que las costumbres sociales y las instituciones religiosas y políticas no son más que la "ropa" de las realidades esenciales.
El libro es una novela enmarcada, en el cual el autor asume el papel de editor de las teorías del profesor alemán Diogenes Teufelsdröckh (“estiércol del diablo”) . Tales teorías que el autor llama: Filosofía de la ropa. La filosofía de Teufelsdröckh sostiene que, así como la ropa pasa de moda, lo mismo sucede con las ideas y las instituciones . En otras palabras: que paradigmas cambian. Por lo tanto, si uno no cambia la ropa (símbolos), lo menos que puede hacer es remendarla.
El escritor argentino Jorge Luis Borges en una de las conferencias dijo que Carlyle:
Cuenta la historia de un amor malogrado de una mujer joven, quien abandona a su novio dejándole a solas con la noche. Luego describe conversaciones con este filósofo imaginario, insertando a la vez largos extractos de un libro que nunca existió llamado Sartor, el sastre. Naturalmente, como el editor es el que da los extractos de ese libro imaginario, esto explica el título de la novela: El sastre remendado.
Carlyle emplea un estilo literario que puede ser exasperante para muchos lectores. El estilo es oscuro, irreverente, extraño, excéntrico, y a menudo francamente socarrón. Tales aberraciones literarias ofendieron a lectores exigentes que encontraron en la obra una visión atea, además de otras ideas perniciosas.
 Los defensores Carlyle, se limitaron a decir que su intención era sólo exponer a todos los sistemas, algo que él veía como barreras falsas.
Nuestra traducción elimina la tediosa tipografía (por ejemplo: la capitalización excesiva), palabras oscuras, y los largos y densos párrafos. Además, hemos incluido resúmenes distintivos para cada capítulo para seguir la ilación de las ideas con más facilidad.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction

Jacques Derrida (1930 - 2007), born in Algiers, is the founder of the philosophical movement Deconstructionism. Deconstruction is a critical method that attempts "to undo" the logic of antitheses. But his work goes beyond 'deconstruction.'

Despised and belittled by many academics, Jacques Derrida' s work is in contrast appreciated by artists, writers, students, and the public in general. Even linguistics genius and professor at MIT, Noam Chomsky, called Derrida "a charlatan," simply because he couldn't understand some of Derrida's writing.

Of course Chomsky is a busy personality and couldn't take time to attempt to learn the language that Derrida employed in his journals, articles, and books. When I hear IT people talking to each other and don't understand a single word of what they are saying, let alone the topic of discussion, I don't dismiss them as "charlatans." I make the concession that they have their own language and that the use it to communicate and convey the nuances of information and computer science.

Derrida's work has dismantled many of the assumptions we --ordinary human beings-- make about accepted 'facts.' Deconstructing binary —also called polar— oppositions, just to give an example, has helped us understand that built into these oppositions are hierarchical assumptions that confer power to one pole over the other. In the polarities 'male/female,' 'presence/absence,' 'slave/master,' 'black/white,' you can just guess which is favored. Derrida's work helped us see that binary oppositions structure thought of individuals within a culture—e.g., Western culture.

But the object to this article is to learn how to understand 'writing,' as expounded by Jacques Derrida.

In Plato's dialogue Phaedrus, the god Thoth, the inventor of writing, is accused of encouraging mental laziness. This is myth lore invented by Plato and Socrates, for we know that writing encourages agility of mind. Rousseau also saw writing as a supplement to speech—as signs. In contrast, because Francis Bacon --the great Elizabethan courtier and scholar-- saw speech ("Idols of the Cave") as a barrier to true knowledge, he went on to write many books. In the end gossip and false testimony, in particular, gained him a year in the London Tower. The moral being: beware that speech can be more lethal than writing.

As it turned out, today we realize that writing and books have become the warehouses of wisdom. It is with the written word that wisdom is created, preserved, and expanded in the different levels of human endeavor. Even symbolic logic and mathematics need the written word to lock and secure exact meanings. Scientists use language to put forth their discoveries, their insights, and to falsify or verify them empirically.

Philosopher Jacques Derrida sees in writing-in-general an entire system that nourishes the human race—archi-écriture. Despite the 'difficult' language he uses, we can extract some meaning from it, by defining some of the deconstructionist jargon:

"What we have tried to show in following the connecting thread of the "dangerous supplement" is that in what we call the real life of these "flesh and blood" creatures ... there has never been anything but writing, there has never been anything but supplement and substitutional significations which could only arise in a chain of differential relations ... And so on indefinitely, for we have read in the text that the absolute present, Nature, what is named by words like "real mother," etc. have always already escaped, have never existed; that what inaugurates meaning and language is writing as the disappearance of natural presence."

To understand fairly the above paragraph, one needs to go back to Immanuel Kant who distinguished between 'reality' (the world of nature and objects) and reason and the senses that apprehend reality—or as Kant call it: the thing-in-itself. According to Kant humans are doomed to never know the thing-in-itself. At best humans may represent it by the senses and the categories of the mind.

Much like Kant, Derrida has invented his own language; he uses the word 'supplement,' 'substitutional significations,' 'chain of substitutions,' as synonyms for the signs with which humans filter, mediate, and represent reality.

When he refers to reality, he uses 'real life,' 'flesh and blood creatures,' 'the absolute present, 'nature,' 'real mother,' 'original,' 'the thing itself of immediate present,' and other similar utterances.

Writing then, for Derrida, is a metaphysical concept that guides human thinking for humans to survive in the world of nature and man-made objects.

While speech is ethereal and instantaneous, writing lingers and sequesters the traces of speech and life to bring about the thing-in-itself: a presence. For Derrida:

"Il n'y a pas de hors-texte" '"There's nothing outside the text."