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Peikoff's floating abstractions

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(I've copied this post about Peikoff and Harriman denouncing modern physics in Peikoff's DIM course from the Tracinsk thread to give it a more appropriate place)

I’ve tried to write down as well as I could some short quotes from the lecture. My English is not good enough to decipher all of Peikoffs croakings, however. To discredit modern physics Peikoff follows his usual method (which he also used in his Ominous Parallels) of cherry-picking a few quotes from some scientists as “proof” of their corruption, and he even uses an article in the New York Times as an argument – I wonder what he would say if we based our judgment of Objectivism on articles in the New York Times. Now he does no such thing with his big hero Newton, the perfect integrator according to his system, who had also a lot to say about religion, alchemy and astrology however. Of course that doesn’t in any way invalidate his brilliant work in physics – which is exactly the point that Peikoff misses when he attacks modern scientists. For those who are unacquainted with Peikoff’s DIM hypothesis: I = integration (the good guys), M = misintegration (the bad guys) and D = disintegration (the very bad guys). M and D come in two versions: 1 (still some redeemable qualities) and 2 (hopeless cases).

Albert Einstein is the most outstanding example of M1 in physics, he represents a mixture of empiricism and rationalism.

Einstein does make an effort to reduce matter and space to mathematics. Matter is reducible to fields, which are defined by equations. Space is [studied?] by geometry.

All this rationalism [..] had very negative results on his physics. Quoting Dave: his gravitational theory is extremely unphysical, forces are not propagated by any physical means.

Oh, and what about his hero Newton? Are his forces “propagated by any physical means”? He just poses that there is some mysterious, instantaneous action at a distance. Is that more of a physical explanation than Einstein’s model?

The equations constitute a brilliant extension of Newton’s theory, but the interpretation is completely unphysical and rationalistic.

What is “completely unphysical and rationalistic” about a theory that can make correct predictions of phenomena that otherwise couldn’t be explained, like the anomaly in Mercury’s orbit, bending of starlight, gravitational lensing, orbital decay due to graviational radiation or gravitational redshift?! Is there any Objectivist scientist who has a better theory to explain these phenomena? Objectivists are very loud and outspoken in their denunciations of modern science, but where are the results of an "Objectivist" science?

Big Bang: a total floating theory, and as Dave pointed out: not a single correct quantitative prediction has been made from the theory nor of course has there been any validation, inductive or otherwise of the Big Bang. It is an issue of faith in the religious sense.

The Big Bang is a prime example of a theory that became generally accepted after one of its most famous predictions was confirmed: the existence of a black-body cosmic background radiation, which was predicted in 1948 by Gamow, Alpher and Herman and was discovered accidentally by Penzias and Wilson in 1965. As there were still large uncertainties in the original version of the theory the original estimates of the temperature of the black-body radiation varied from 5 to 50 K. The lower estimate was close to the observed temperature of 2.7 K. The radiation is quite uniformly distributed over the sky, but the theory predicted very small variations, which were later found, confirming the theory.

The Big Bang is now treated as a religious doctrine rather than a scientific theory. Cosmologists play the role of theologians, protecting the faith.

When the Big Bang faces a problem, they invent the arbitrary conjectures necessary to save it. The observed mass-density of the universe is about 20 times too low by their prediction, so they invent an unknown form of invisible dark matter.

Harriman apparently doesn’t know that there is a lot evidence for dark matter that is completely independent of the Big Bang model, as the speed distributions in galaxies and of galaxies in clusters, and gravitational lensing observations. Apparently Harriman doesn’t know much about current science.

Dave in a brilliant [coined?] calls them the mystics of particles, which is a [irely??] memorable phrase, which should be the title of a book on the people, and it’s obvious that they are.. they simply rewrite science the way history was rewritten in 1984.

No comment necessary.

In regard to Einstein, his whole view of eh... trying to reduce so much of physics to geometry, I mean, that is a classic rational dream, and his whole view of [treating?] gravitation as simply a geometric construct of space-time, that’s a complete floating abstraction, that is central to his physics.

Is geometry somehow metaphysically inferior to algebra? And how can something be a "floating abstraction" if it can make succesful predictions of phenomena that are verified and can't be explained otherwise? I think the term "floating abstraction" is an Objectivist bromide for "a theory I can't refute".

It’s an empty mathematical formalism. What’s right about it is the mathematical formalism, but it is not a physical theory.
I would classify Feynman as a D1.

Question from the audience: What is chaos theory, and is that an oxymoron?

...they developed their own approach and called it chaos theory basically, and they have given up causality, so the only way they can think of to describe the messy physical world we observe is in terms of statistics, so they describe random statistical outcomes of complicated systems, and that is chaos theory.

Harriman apparently doesn’t know that chaos theory is a strictly deterministic and causal theory, which is not limited to complicated systems: the simple Newtonian 3-body problem can also display chaotic behavior. This confirms our earlier conclusion: Harriman doesn't know much about modern science. Apart from that, what is wrong with statistical physics? Classical statistical mechanics is the only way to give a microscopic description of a gas, which gives for example a mechanical foundation for the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Does Harriman perhaps think that the only valid physics would be to calculate the trajectories of every single molecule in the gas? I wonder, does he have any ideas other than that modern science is "corrupt"?

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Big Bang was originally proposed by a physicist who was also a priest.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the laws of classical mechanics were originally proposed by a physicist who was also a theologian, an alchemist and an astrologer, who wrote more about religion than about science. Complete bullshit of course, but so is Harriman’s statement.

I believe that theory came more from the metaphysics of Augustine than that it did from observational evidence.

Harriman apparently has never heard of the observed expansion of the universe, which lead by backwards extrapolation to the notion of a big bang. No doubt most astronomers couldn’t care less about the metaphysics of Augustine. Who is in fact here defending religious dogma?

D2 – the arch-example is quantum mechanics, [?] math, Gödel in math, the uncertainty view.

We’re looking now at nihilism in physics, in other words, the explicit assault on any principle making possible integration in physics, even on the low level of the [croak?]

No integration? What about the successful integration of the theory of weak interactions (manifest in radioactive decay) and electromagnetism (electroweak theory)?

No generalizations can be validated on this theory by any amount of observation and logic, because their viewpoint is that anything is possible with some degree of probability, which is inherently inexplicable.

“Anything” is possible is certainly not true, but some things are in principle possible, but the probability is so low that such things won’t happen in practice during the lifetime of the universe or even a trillion times longer. But that is not something unique to QM: if we let a glass drop so that it explodes in thousands of shards and splitters, it is in Newtonian physics theoretically possible that all these fragments fly up again and form an unbroken glass. The probability of that happening is so extremely low however that we’ll never see it happen.

To the extent that he [Einstein] got anything right, he got it inductively.

So poor Einstein got at least something right?

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Here is another example of an application of the "unphysical rationalistic floating abstraction" that general relativity according to Peikoff is.

About practical applications: for accurate predictions the GPS system has to use the gravitational redshift predicted by general relativity. Perhaps the rational physical theories by Peikoff and Harriman can offer an alternative explanation?

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I guess it's easier for Peikoff to criticize and correct physicists than to criticize and correct Objectivism--or Ayn Rand.

--Brant

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I listened to about one half of Peikoff's first lecture on the Dim hypothesis (someone should have told him not to use that title; it's as dangerous as entitling a novel " A terrible book" -- then sending it out to the critics for their appraisal). In the material I listened to, he gives an overview of a number of philosophers, and I truly could not believe my ears. In the NBI days years ago, Peikoff was a wonderful lecturerer; when he discussed the history of philosophy, he was very careful to be exact in the ideas he attributed to various philosophers, to explain the philosophical problems they were attempting to solve, and why they arrived ar the answers they reached. In this lecture, the philosophers he discusses are unrecognizable caricatures. He categorizes philosophers as holding one of three possible views: 1. There are two realities; 2. there is no reality; 3. there is one reality (Objectivism). Only Objectivism, in the whole of human history, is correct; every other thinker except Aristotle (in part) was totally and ludicrously wrong.

I have studied the history of philosohy. I have never encountered philosophers who claim that there are two realites or no reality st all.. What has happened to Peikoff's sense of justice towrd those he criticizes I don't know, but I shudder to think that among his students are many young people for whom this is their first exposure to the history of philosophy and who will take away from his lectures so distorted and fallacious a concept of what the human quest for knowledge has consisted of. Two realities or no reality, indeed!

When I was about twenty, I returned to Winnipeg from UCLA one summer and at his request held a series of discussions with Leonard Peikoff about the early Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle and Plato -- keeping one or two steps ahead of my professors. I guarantee that had I discussed philosophers in the terms in which he now presents them, he never would have decided that philosophy was so interesting that he would make its study his profession.. . Hmm. . .

Barbara.

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Barbara; Thank you for your first comment about the DIM hypothesis. It kept running through my mind that not only the hypothesis was dim but so was the speaker. I'll have to remember about not titling my first book A Bad Book.

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I shudder to think that among [Leonard Peikoff's] students are many young people for whom this is their first exposure to the history of philosophy and who will take away from his lectures so distorted and fallacious a concept of what the human quest for knowledge has consisted of. Two realities or no reality, indeed!

I had a fortunate intellectual upbringing. In addition to being blessed by very good teachers from grade school on, I had parents both of whom loved, read, and accumulated books. Our house was a mini-library; I once estimated that there were on the order of 2000 books in the place. Among those was a fair collection of books on philosophy. Also the set called The Great Books.

My own idea of the history of philosophy, from the time I was a child, has been summarized by the title of the introductory volume of the Great Books set: "The Great Conversation." I have thought of philosophy as a discourse amongst intelligent minds grappling with difficult questions in an ongoing dialogue over the ages.

Back in the '70s when I took Leonard Peikoff's two overview courses on the history of philosophy, "the great conversation" way of approach to the subject was what I felt was Leonard's own, native emotional attitude -- an attitude which I thought emerged in his becoming enthused, his getting really "into" the perspective of whichever philosopher he was presenting. Via some conversations with him and with some other persons who were either part of or close to the Rand inner circle, I learned that this attitude of enthusiasm on Leonard's part had often resulted in troubles between him and AR. He took a long time "getting" -- internalizing -- the message that the history of philosophy was supposed to be mostly a wasteland lit by only a few bright beacons prior to Rand.

Judging from what I've read about his DIM-hypothesis course, he's at last fully internalized the message. More's the pity.

I agree with Barbara that it's very sad indeed if young Objectivists form their impression of the history of thought from what Leonard Peikoff seems to be telling them today.

Ellen

___

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There is no Objectivist science. In so far as science describes reality and makes predictions of behavior for reality, anyone desirous of knowing reality will embrace it. Of course, science is not yet, and may never be a complete description of reality, so the Objectivist can declare it wanting in that way. But, Peikoff's ideas are irrational and ignorant. Generally, scientists follow quite rational approaches to trying to understand reality. When they head down the wrong path for a while, they generally figure out that it is the wrong path and make corrections. It would be great if politicians and artists, for instance, were as self-correcting.

One can really question Peikoff's wisdom in trying to address problems in science, when he seems to have so little aptitude for it and when other fields might benefit more from the attention of a philosopher. Although, given his present irrationality on many issues, I doubt that many fields would benefit from his attention.

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It is interesting that I haven't found any discussion of the Peikoff and Harriman show in the DIM course on any of the Objectivist forums that I've visited (other than OL of course). Perhaps the subject is a bit too embarrassing? Neither can I believe that none of the ARIans has very serious disagreements with them in this matter. The threat of excommunication must be like the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, so they keep a very low profile. Peikoff rules!

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It is interesting that I haven't found any discussion of the Peikoff and Harriman show in the DIM course on any of the Objectivist forums that I've visited (other than OL of course). Perhaps the subject is a bit too embarrassing? Neither can I believe that none of the ARIans has very serious disagreements with them in this matter. The threat of excommunication must be like the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, so they keep a very low profile. Peikoff rules!

http://forums.4aynrandfans.com/index.php?showtopic=5430

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Einstein does make an effort to reduce matter and space to mathematics. Matter is reducible to fields, which are defined by equations. Space is [studied?] by geometry.

Actually spacetime is the gravitational field, which is caused by matter. The presence of matter causes spacetime to become distorted (curved) which is why objects fall down to earth and why planets orbit the sun.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Big Bang was originally proposed by a physicist who was also a priest.

Actually the first one to conclude from the Einstein's equation that the universe was expanding was the russian scientist Alexander Friedman. Lemaitre, the Belgian priest, found the same results some year later independently.

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Einstein does make an effort to reduce matter and space to mathematics. Matter is reducible to fields, which are defined by equations. Space is [studied?] by geometry.

For the record, it was Peikoff who said that.

BTW, your name sounds rather Dutch...

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My own idea of the history of philosophy, from the time I was a child, has been summarized by the title of the introductory volume of the Great Books set: "The Great Conversation." I have thought of philosophy as a discourse amongst intelligent minds grappling with difficult questions in an ongoing dialogue over the ages. [...]

Mortimer Adler, who created the Great Books program and breathed that perspective, was worth a dozen Peikoffs as an educator.

I am dismayed that more haven't followed Adler's lead in a host of areas. Such as with his small but potent book Aristotle for Everybody. That got me interested in delving into Rand's idol as no other book ever could, including the one she recommended by John Herman Randall. Why haven't more Objectivists or sympathizers found the writing touch to do other such brief, accessible treatments of philosophers for the general public?

Including for Rand herself? We have Gotthelf's short, inadequate book and Bernstein's Cliffs Notes, may the gods help us.

[...] Via some conversations with him and with some other persons who were either part of or close to the Rand inner circle, I learned that this attitude of enthusiasm on Leonard's part had often resulted in troubles between him and AR. He took a long time "getting" -- internalizing -- the message that the history of philosophy was supposed to be mostly a wasteland lit by only a few bright beacons prior to Rand.

Judging from what I've read about his DIM-hypothesis course, he's at last fully internalized the message. More's the pity.

The parallels here to what Rand tried to do about the enthusiasm of Peikoff's cousin, for Thomas Wolfe, are sadly obvious.

I'll take Barbara's word that these assaults remained endurable, as little explained and unjust as they were. And that the pleasure of Rand's intellect and friendship in other areas outweighed this. Yet I just can't "grok" it (thank you, Robert Heinlein) on any personal level. I cannot fathom having the patience to put up with it.

It's certainly too facile to say that the only experience worse than being Rand's enemy was being one of her closest friends ... but I really have to wonder.

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[...] I think the term "floating abstraction" is an Objectivist bromide for "a theory I can't refute".

Now, THAT description is a keeper!

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I shudder to think that among [Leonard Peikoff's] students are many young people for whom this is their first exposure to the history of philosophy and who will take away from his lectures so distorted and fallacious a concept of what the human quest for knowledge has consisted of. Two realities or no reality, indeed!

I had a fortunate intellectual upbringing. In addition to being blessed by very good teachers from grade school on, I had parents both of whom loved, read, and accumulated books. Our house was a mini-library; I once estimated that there were on the order of 2000 books in the place. Among those was a fair collection of books on philosophy. Also the set called The Great Books.

My own idea of the history of philosophy, from the time I was a child, has been summarized by the title of the introductory volume of the Great Books set: "The Great Conversation." I have thought of philosophy as a discourse amongst intelligent minds grappling with difficult questions in an ongoing dialogue over the ages.

Back in the '70s when I took Leonard Peikoff's two overview courses on the history of philosophy, "the great conversation" way of approach to the subject was what I felt was Leonard's own, native emotional attitude -- an attitude which I thought emerged in his becoming enthused, his getting really "into" the perspective of whichever philosopher he was presenting. Via some conversations with him and with some other persons who were either part of or close to the Rand inner circle, I learned that this attitude of enthusiasm on Leonard's part had often resulted in troubles between him and AR. He took a long time "getting" -- internalizing -- the message that the history of philosophy was supposed to be mostly a wasteland lit by only a few bright beacons prior to Rand.

Judging from what I've read about his DIM-hypothesis course, he's at last fully internalized the message. More's the pity.

I agree with Barbara that it's very sad indeed if young Objectivists form their impression of the history of thought from what Leonard Peikoff seems to be telling them today.

Ellen

___

I am about as much a scientist as Stephen Hawking is an Olympic pole vaulter, so I am self-admittedly ill qualified to speak on physics at all, Newtonian or otherwise.

However, Ellen, I LOVE the Brittanica Great Books, a set of which my father handed down to me and which I devoured while in college. As a history teacher, I used them all the time to supplement my lecture material. I guess you and I have the only "dog-eared" set of Great Books out there!

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I'll take Barbara's word that these assaults remained endurable, as little explained and unjust as they were. And that the pleasure of Rand's intellect and friendship in other areas outweighed this. Yet I just can't "grok" it (thank you, Robert Heinlein) on any personal level. I cannot fathom having the patience to put up with it

Steve, it wasn't as simple for me as weighing gains and losses. It wasn't that sort of calculation that kept me there. It was Ayn Rand who kept me there. I had seen so much in her for so many years that moved and touched me, so much that I admired and honored and loved -- I had been with her through the writing of Atlas Shrugged and had seen the steady maturing of her philosophical ideas -- I had been beside her through the publication of Atlas and the agony that followed it. We had been comrades-in-arms in a difficult battle. She was my teacher, my mentor, my friend, my fellow-fighter. I had seen the qualities in her that were pure gold -- the determination, the fearlessness. I had seen the fighter who did not know how to yield -- and the ecstatic child who still sometimes shone through the dross of the years. I had seen the power of a giant intellect and of a will to understand that was equally powerful. These were the things that held me to Ayn.

And something more. I wrote in Passion -- and this is not directed to you, Steve, because your meaning is somewhat different:

"I thought of the people, through the years, who had said to me, 'How could you have stayed with Ayn all those years? How could you have allowed yourselrf to be a party to her affair with Nathaniel? How could you have been willing to endure all the pain of so many years:? I would never have done it.' I undertood their perspective, but each time I heard the comment, I had thought: No, you would not have done it. The moments of joy and the passionate engagement, the struggle for the highest possible, would not have been worth their cost in agony. But they were worth it to me."

Barbara

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Barbara, thank you for that inspiring and eloquent description of Ayn in the first paragraph. I found it both moving and insightful.

I want to comment on something you said at the end about something being worth its cost in pain or in negative aspects. As a teacher of often lazy students and an observer of a lazy and slipshod culture, I often mourn the passing of the Puritans in this respect!

Okay, that was only partly a joke. :-)

This is not on the same level of great value or personal pain, but I love movies and going out and seeing the new releases in the theaters. And so often they disappoint, and I'm left depressed or upset. Every week I see three or four new movies, but I often go thru long arid stretches where everything is a "downer".... But, and this is the connection, every so often something beautiful and powerful happens, either a whole movie, or a major aspect of the movie. And it counts for much more than the pain of the negatives or the flaws...which I can forget about or largely shrug of.

A significant positive value or occurrence or life experience outweighs a whole host of even -importantly- negative values or occurrences or life experiences.

And this is true in every area of life...the friends you have who you'd like to throttle, the "almost great" movie, pieces of music, literature (maybe you even agree with some of the flaws AR saw in Thomas Wolfe, but they were outweighed by what you needed and found in him?)

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I'll take Barbara's word that these assaults remained endurable, as little explained and unjust as they were. And that the pleasure of Rand's intellect and friendship in other areas outweighed this. Yet I just can't "grok" it (thank you, Robert Heinlein) on any personal level. I cannot fathom having the patience to put up with it

Steve, it wasn't as simple for me as weighing gains and losses. It wasn't that sort of calculation that kept me there. It was Ayn Rand who kept me there. I had seen so much in her for so many years that moved and touched me, so much that I admired and honored and loved -- I had been with her through the writing of Atlas Shrugged and had seen the steady maturing of her philosophical ideas -- I had been beside her through the publication of Atlas and the agony that followed it. We had been comrades-in-arms in a difficult battle. She was my teacher, my mentor, my friend, my fellow-fighter. I had seen the qualities in her that were pure gold -- the determination, the fearlessness. I had seen the fighter who did not know how to yield -- and the ecstatic child who still sometimes shone through the dross of the years. I had seen the power of a giant intellect and of a will to understand that was equally powerful. These were the things that held me to Ayn.

And something more. I wrote in Passion -- and this is not directed to you, Steve, because your meaning is somewhat different:

"I thought of the people, through the years, who had said to me, 'How could you have stayed with Ayn all those years? How could you have allowed yourselrf to be a party to her affair with Nathaniel? How could you have been willing to endure all the pain of so many years:? I would never have done it.' I undertood their perspective, but each time I heard the comment, I had thought: No, you would not have done it. The moments of joy and the passionate engagement, the struggle for the highest possible, would not have been worth their cost in agony. But they were worth it to me."

Barbara

I find this all very easy to understand -- very easy to accept. The interest and pleasure of being around Ayn Rand was probably so valuable and intense that you'd have to lack most sense not to want it. People have put up with "mad geniuses" and prima donna behavior since time immemorial. "Difficult" people traditionally cause a lot of pain -- including to themselves -- but they're often worth it.

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Barbara, thank you for that inspiring and eloquent description of Ayn in the first paragraph. I found it both moving and insightful.

I want to comment on something you said at the end about something being worth its cost in pain or in negative aspects. As a teacher of often lazy students and an observer of a lazy and slipshod culture, I often mourn the passing of the Puritans in this respect!

Okay, that was only partly a joke. :-)

This is not on the same level of great value or personal pain, but I love movies and going out and seeing the new releases in the theaters. And so often they disappoint, and I'm left depressed or upset. Every week I see three or four new movies, but I often go thru long arid stretches where everything is a "downer".... But, and this is the connection, every so often something beautiful and powerful happens, either a whole movie, or a major aspect of the movie. And it counts for much more than the pain of the negatives or the flaws...which I can forget about or largely shrug of.

A significant positive value or occurrence or life experience outweighs a whole host of even -importantly- negative values or occurrences or life experiences.

And this is true in every area of life...the friends you have who you'd like to throttle, the "almost great" movie, pieces of music, literature (maybe you even agree with some of the flaws AR saw in Thomas Wolfe, but they were outweighed by what you needed and found in him?)

Thank you for the compliment, Phil.

I fully agree with you that finding something to enjoy or care about outweghs a host of negatives -- and that often you have to wade through a host of negatives to find the one significant value. If you're not willing to do it, you may miss wonderful experiences. I keep starting novel after novel, only to be disappointed most of the time. But very occasionally, when I feel ready to give up looking for novels, I find a gem -- and that makes me more than willing to continue.

And yes, I did agree with Rand about some of the flaws she saw in Thomas Wolfe. That's why I had a problem.

Years ago, when I lived in New York, I had a sure-fire way of avoiding movies I would have disliked. If the New York Times reviewer liked a movie -- or a play -- I stayed home. If he was tepid about it, I'd think it over. If he passionately hated it, I ran to see it.

Barbara

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> I keep starting novel after novel, only to be disappointed most of the time. But very occasionally, when I feel ready to give up looking for novels, I find a gem -- and that makes me more than willing to continue. [barbara]

There are three major writers I gave a second chance to (having been exposed to something I didn't like of theirs in adolescence) and I'm -very- glad I did: Dickens, Shakespeare, and Homer. For example, I just got done with three weeks teaching the Merchant of Venice and it was a richly sastisfying experience. Far from having Willie having a consistently negative or tragic sense of life, his portrayal of Portia is of someone benevolent, heroic, clever, principled, and successful.

> Years ago, when I lived in New York, I had a sure-fire way of avoiding movies I would have disliked. If the New York Times reviewer liked a movie -- or a play -- I stayed home. If he was tepid about it, I'd think it over. If he passionately hated it, I ran to see it.

Funny you said that: I just posted about having had almost the same experience on another forum! For me, it was Vincent Canby...he was the canary (or in this case skunk!) in the coal mine. Oh, how I despised his sense of life and patronizing sneers at anything beautiful or upbeat. I have never read Pauline Kael, she was before my time...but I'm curious if I would have had the same 'this is a polar opposite' reaction.

Unfortunately, I don't know about you, but I can't find a consistently bad critic to rely on any more....Canby come back, all is forgiven.

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> I keep starting novel after novel, only to be disappointed most of the time. But very occasionally, when I feel ready to give up looking for novels, I find a gem -- and that makes me more than willing to continue. [barbara]

There are three major writers I gave a second chance to (having been exposed to something I didn't like of theirs in adolescence) and I'm -very- glad I did: Dickens, Shakespeare, and Homer. For example, I just got done with three weeks teaching the Merchant of Venice and it was a richly sastisfying experience. Far from having Willie having a consistently negative or tragic sense of life, his portrayal of Portia is of someone benevolent, heroic, clever, principled, and successful.

> Years ago, when I lived in New York, I had a sure-fire way of avoiding movies I would have disliked. If the New York Times reviewer liked a movie -- or a play -- I stayed home. If he was tepid about it, I'd think it over. If he passionately hated it, I ran to see it.

Funny you said that: I just posted about having had almost the same experience on another forum! For me, it was Vincent Canby...he was the canary (or in this case skunk!) in the coal mine. Oh, how I despised his sense of life and patronizing sneers at anything beautiful or upbeat. I have never read Pauline Kael, she was before my time...but I'm curious if I would have had the same 'this is a polar opposite' reaction.

Unfortunately, I don't know about you, but I can't find a consistently bad critic to rely on any more....Canby come back, all is forgiven.

Kael wrote long, intellectually pretentious reviews for "The New Yorker" magazine. I knew that the filmmakers she praised weren't half as smart as she thought she was so she was basically patronizing as far as I was concerned. She thought "The Last Tango In Paris" was one of the greatest if not the greatest movie made up to that time (early 70s). I haven't seen five minutes of that, so see it and decide for yourself how perspicacious she really was.

--Brant

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> I keep starting novel after novel, only to be disappointed most of the time. But very occasionally, when I feel ready to give up looking for novels, I find a gem -- and that makes me more than willing to continue. [barbara]

There are three major writers I gave a second chance to (having been exposed to something I didn't like of theirs in adolescence) and I'm -very- glad I did: Dickens, Shakespeare, and Homer. For example, I just got done with three weeks teaching the Merchant of Venice and it was a richly sastisfying experience. Far from having Willie having a consistently negative or tragic sense of life, his portrayal of Portia is of someone benevolent, heroic, clever, principled, and successful.

> Years ago, when I lived in New York, I had a sure-fire way of avoiding movies I would have disliked. If the New York Times reviewer liked a movie -- or a play -- I stayed home. If he was tepid about it, I'd think it over. If he passionately hated it, I ran to see it.

Funny you said that: I just posted about having had almost the same experience on another forum! For me, it was Vincent Canby...he was the canary (or in this case skunk!) in the coal mine. Oh, how I despised his sense of life and patronizing sneers at anything beautiful or upbeat. I have never read Pauline Kael, she was before my time...but I'm curious if I would have had the same 'this is a polar opposite' reaction.

Unfortunately, I don't know about you, but I can't find a consistently bad critic to rely on any more....Canby come back, all is forgiven.

It amazes me that any grade-school victim of the teaching of Shakespeare -- including me -- ever gave him a second chance. At my school, we were required to memorize and regurgitate on cue huge chunks of Shakespeare, whether or not we had the faintest understanding of its meaning. I remember that for a long time I wondered what the term "wallup" meant, although I could recite the speech in which it occurred -- and then. years later, I read the line: "Or close the wall up with our English dead." I could never take that speech quite seriously again.

I agree that Shakespeare doesn't have a tragic sense of life -- and even when a particular play is unrelievedly tragic, the writing is so beautiful that one comes away with a feeling of exaltation. The first of his plays I saw (apart from school performances which were enough to turn one away not just from Shakespeare but from theater itself) was a performance of Othello. I was seventeen, and a touring company came to Winnipeg -- with Paul Robeson as Othello and Jose Ferrer as Iago. Everything about it was superb. When the play ended, I felt as though I hadn't drawn a breath for the whole of the last act. There was a complete silence in the theater that seemed to last for many minutes; the audience was so overhwlemed that no one could move even to applaud. And then the applause began, and continued and continued until our hands were aching. Yes, we had just watched a tragic death scene, but tragedy was not what we felt.

I, too, am out of critics to rely on for reverse recommendations, although I do have a friend who is fairly reliable. (I've never told her why I ask what movies she likes.)

Barbara

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Brant: "She [Pauline Kael] thought 'The Last Tango In Paris' was one of the greatest if not the greatest movie made up to that time (early 70s). I haven't seen five minutes of that, so see it and decide for yourself how perspicacious she really was."

I saw "Last Tango" -- it starred Marlon Brando -- and although I don't think it was a great movie, it had one impressive value. When I've watched actual pornography, I have the feeling that I'm seeing an anatomy lesson rather than a love scene. "Last Tango" was highly sexual, and was considered pornographic by some reviewers, but to this day it is the only movie I've ever seen that made sex beautiful.

No, now that I think of it, there was a scene in one other movie that showed sex as beautiful. That was the sex scene in "The Piano," (a movie I disliked otherwise). It was interesting because the lovemaking was shown from the woman's point of view, and I don't recall ever seeing that in a movie before or since. The focus of the camera was not on the woman, which is normally the case, but on the man, and specifically on the beauty of his body.

Barbara

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Laughing at the way in which one thought leads to another on these threads via serpentine connections almost as twisting as can occur in the dream state. You realize the thread started with Peikoff's foolishness about physics and has progressed to sex scenes in movies, via Shakespeare and other intermediaries.

Ellen

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