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One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs: "Mark Thwaite ... has a maverick, independent mind"

Blog entries on '08 March 2007'

Thursday 08 March 2007

Betraying Spinoza

T'other week I read Rebecca Goldstein's Betraying Spinoza (Schocken; part of the excellent Jewish Encounters series co-published with Nextbook) which was an absolute joy -- if you have any interest at all in Spinoza, get yourself a copy. Today, I did a wee review of the book over at The Book Depository:

Rebecca Goldstein's quite wonderful Betraying Spinoza is an absolute delight. So, why does the author think she might be betraying the great philosopher? Well, as Wikipedia tells us: "Benedictus de Spinoza or Baruch de Spinoza (lived November 24, 1632 – February 21, 1677) was a Dutch philosopher of Jewish origin, considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy and, by virtue of his magnum opus the posthumous Ethics, one of the definitive ethicists." As a great rationalist Spinoza eschewed the biographical and the personal, but Goldstein thinks that that very silence in his work can be traced to his belonging to the embattled Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam (whose history Goldstein admirably and fluently traces). After first describing her own (Jewish) upbringing, and how she -- an analytic philosopher by training -- became entranced by Spinoza, Goldstein goes on to recount the fascinating history of the Jews who called themselves La Nacion, Spinoza's excommunication from them, and the studies he undertook to come to his positions on a post-Descartian philosophy. You will not read a better introduction to this still vital thinker; Goldstein's book is a triumph.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 08 March 2007

Curing Bloom Syndrom

Sandra, Mrs Book World to you, thinks she has Bloom Syndrome:

I think I have Bloom Syndrome: a condition in which the sufferer is unable to read any work of literature unless it is deemed Significant by Harold Bloom and which often results in the reader losing the will to live/read, crushed under the weight of canonical imperatives. The Syndrome develops gradually with the sufferer firstly accepting the notion that some books are better than others, placing undue emphasis on books which have won prizes or been favourably reviewed by The Clever People in newspapers. This begins the descent into genre deprecation in which all romance/chick lit is dismissed as unreadable, followed gradually by an inability to stomach any fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers and finally, mystery novels (these are the last genre to be abandoned because Clever People occasionally admit to reading them as a guilty pleasure). Thereafter sufferers quickly develop Classic monomania, a state of mind in which the literary tastes of the now emaciated reader have become so distorted that she can take only small doses of books endorsed by His Bloomness as being Works Of Genius. If left untreated, the Syndrome can result in a fatal loss of the love of reading.

Her suggested self-cure is reading "a book for pure pleasure irrespective of the name on the cover or what The Clever People think of it." But I don't understand this. I'm with Steve, I only ever read for pleasure, and I don't understand this talk of "guilty pleasures". Further, I don't understand how and why "engaging fully and thoughtfully" with a book is deemed to be synonymous with that book being difficult or arcance and the reading of it a source of displeasure:

Of course, this philistine drivel flows from the assumption that Great Art is a Platonic realm and good for you like a sermon, while "guilty pleasures" are what we'd all prefer to engage in instead. When I read litbloggers on this subject, for example the otherwise excellent LitKicks just the other day, it's like they've been taken over by the Nick Hornby hypnotoad. It isn't about snobbery but making the distinction between an ephemeral need and what is needed at the deepest level. How many times does it need saying? If a mass-market, blockbuster paperback offers to fulfil the latter need, then please tell us about it!

This is why I read litblogs, to find the books I need to read on a very personal level. As I don't read mass-market, blockbuster paperbacks, I'm open to convincing suggestions. I'm not a snob you see. I'm happy to "confess" that I watch lots of trash TV. Top Gear and Most Haunted are among my favourites (even though I don't drive or believe in ghosts). But if I'm going to write here about what I watch, I'd prefer to write about Eloge de l'Amour. Not because I'm "ashamed" of the others or because I'm trying to put up an intellectual front, but for the same reason restaurant critics write about eating the finest food and not about shitting it out.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

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Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’... that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west...
What greater glory could a man desire?

-- Siegfried Sassoon
Collected Poems (Faber and Faber)

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Word of the Day

The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

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October's Books of the Month

The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
Luc Boltanski; Eve Chiapello
Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths

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