Archive | May 7, 2010


Funny. But notice how Olbermann manages to make the narrator seem angry where the text suggests merely bewildered anxiety – like Lewis Black reading a Woody Allen routine.

Frankenstein’s Dad

Nice piece by Jeff Riggenbach on William Godwin. And what he says about the respective roles of communism and individualism in Godwin’s theory strikes me as basically right.

It’s also worth noting (since Riggenbach mentions Caleb Williams toward the end) that there’s been a revival of interest in Godwin’s novels as well; indeed I find that among academics he’s perhaps best known for his role in the development of the Romantic novel.

William Godwin

The theme of Caleb Williams might be described as “the problem of other minds, viewed through the lens of class analysis.” It concerns an innocent commoner being persecuted (for complicated reasons) by an aristocrat, where the difference in social status between the two men makes it literally impossible for even the most well-intentioned third parties to take seriously the possibility that the fault lies with the aristocrat; the notion that the aristocrat might be other than as he seems is treated as a skeptical hypothesis that can be entertained in the abstract but cannot seriously be lived. (Godwin had a deep interest in Humean worries about ordinary beliefs’ being unfounded yet impossible to surrender; see my Godwin paper.)

Among Godwin’s other novels, the best known is St.-Léon (originally titled The Adept), about an alchemist who discovers the twin secrets of making gold and of living forever. Just as H.G. Wells seems to have been the first writer to explore what being invisible would actually be like (including the disadvantages it would entail), so Godwin does the same thing for immortality and inexhaustible wealth. Byron once paid the novel a rather Byronic compliment:

[A]fter asking Godwin why he did not write a new novel, his lordship received from the old man the answer, that it would kill him. “And what matter,” said Lord Byron, “we should have another St.-Léon.”

(Given Godwin’s views on archbishops and chambermaids, he could hardly have objected to Byron’s suggested trade-off.)

Beyond Being

The Good is not being, but beyond being, surpassing it in dignity and power. — Plato

According to CBS News, the Department of Homeland Security has had its eye on Faisal Shahzad since 1999. That’s pretty impressive for a Department that didn’t exist until 2002.

Wow, so government agencies can do their jobs just as well when they don’t exist as when they do! I guess that settles the debate over anarchism.

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