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Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Nostalgia for Earth

A fun passage from the beginning of Borges' lecture "Immortality":

Without understanding [William James'] joke, don Miguel de Unamuno repeats it word for word in his The Tragic Sense of Life*: God is the provider of immortality, but he repeats many times that he wants to go on being don Miguel de Unamuno. Here I don't understand Miguel de Unamuno; I do not want to go on being Jorge Luis Borges, I want to be another person. I hope that my death will be total, I hope to die in body and soul.

I do not know if it's ambitious or modest, or at all justifiable, my pretension of speaking about personal immortality, about a soul which preserves a memory of that which was on earth and which already in the other world corresponds to the previous one. I remember that my sister, Norah, was at my house the other day and said: I'm going to paint a picture called "Nostalgia for Earth", having as its content that which an angel feels in heaven, thinking of earth. I'm going to make it up of elements from Buenos Aires when I was a girl.

It's just really nice to see Borges, whom I've always pictured as a sort of forbidding presence, talking in this down-to-earth manner, having a house and a sister...

Update: fixed a blunder in my translation, after referring to Eliot Weinberger's translation of the lecture in Selected Non-Fictions.

* Jaime Nubiola and Izaskun Martínez of the Universidad de Navarra have written a paper on Unamuno's Reading of The Varieties of Religious Experience and its Context. Nubiola also has an interesting note in Streams of William James, vol. I, #3 (pdf), on "Jorge Luis Borges and WJ", and in vol. III, #3 (pdf), on "WJ and Borges Again: the Riddle of the Correspondence with Macedonio Fernández". Professor Nubiola has confirmed to me by e-mail that as he understands it, "Unamuno is a deep believer and William James is -- at the end of the day -- a non believer, who understands the belief in God as the other side of the belief of immortality."

posted afternoon of February 22nd, 2009: 4 responses
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Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Aristotelians and Platonists

In his note on "Jorge Luis Borges and William James" (pdf), Jaime Nubiola quotes a passage from Borges' introduction to a Spanish translation of James' Pragmatism. Very nice: I now understand a little better than I ever did before the common distinction between "Aristotelians" and "Platonists". (Also, I never realized this distinction was Coleridge's coinage.) This paragraph is useful in reading Borges' lectures on Emanuel Swedenborg and on Immortality.

Coleridge observes that all men are born Aristotelians or Platonists. The latter feel that ideas are realities: the former, that they are generalizations. For the latter, language is nothing but a system of arbitrary symbols: for the former, it is the map of the universe. The Platonist knows that the universe is somehow a cosmos, an order; that order, for the Aristotelian, can be an error or a fiction of our partial knowledge. Across the latitudes and the epochs, the two immortal antagonists change their name and language: one is Parmenides, Plato, Anselm, Leibnitz, Kant, Francis Bradley; the other, Heraclitus, Aristotle, Roscelin, Locke, Hume, William James. (...) From 1889, this lucid tradition is enriched with William James. Like Bergson, he fights against positivism and against idealist monism. He advocates, like Bergson, in favor of immortality and freedom.
Here is the source for Coleridge making this observation: Table Talk of S.T. Coleridge, p. 102.

posted morning of February 25th, 2009: Respond
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Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Varieties of Religious Experience: Prophecy

I've been rereading Julian Jaynes' The Birth of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind -- a book which I read shortly before I started blogging about reading and which has pretty strongly influenced my ways of thinking -- and thinking there is a lot I want to write about it; but nothing is coming together yet when I sit down to write about it. Instead I want to quote a passage from another book, from William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience, a passage which surprised me when I happened across it this afternoon.

I was raised a Quaker but never really learned much about George Fox. I guess to the extent that I have any image of him, it is as an ethereal, meditative pacifist, a thoughtful, reflective man. Below the fold, James quotes a passage from Fox' journals which shows him in full-on bicameral, hallucinatory prophet mode. Check it out.

posted evening of May 5th, 2011: 1 response
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