Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"Long ago as a post-adolescent do-gooder I worked in a farmhouse shared by two groups, one a group of murderers who had served their time and the other a group of idiots. (All lovely men, if odd.) One of the former, a defrocked Jesuit who had killed his mother, found me reading Spinoza at night and spoke (as he rarely did): "Ah, the great Spinoza. Only he understood freedom and necessity." A moving statement by a solitary man who had paid his dues."
Ian Hacking on Antonio Damasio, in the NYRB.

That's a great paragraph, if odd, but more often Ian Hacking's literalism is absolutely infuriating. And mentioning one critic of Damasio's -one who "went to town" on Damasio's book- as being " the Oxford author of an invaluable many-volume line-by-line analysis [!?] of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations" doesn't help.

If you are a skeptical reader you might not make it past the first two sentences:

"Feelings of pain or pleasure or some quality in between are the bedrock of our minds. We often fail to notice this simple reality because the mental images of the objects and events that surround us, along with the images of the words and sentences that describe them, use up so much of our overburdened attention."

Here one wants to say to Damasio, "Hey, wait a minute! To be honest with you, my attention is seldom overburdened, the way it might be if I had to teach primary school and had thirty cacophonous little voices to deal with. And I rarely have images of words, let alone sentences. The schoolteacher is trying to pay attention to her children, their antics, and their wants, and not to mental images of them (unless she shuts her eyes and plugs her ears). And I do not understand your metaphor of mental bedrock, especially if, as we soon gather, you think that the mind is a sort of organ in the brain."

Hey, Wait a minute, Indeed. It's as if Hacking is opposed to the idea let alone the reality of someone actually having an imagination. I haven't read Damasio, but I found nothing offensive in any of the quotes. A little loose perhaps, but reasonable and useful. It's Hacking, as I said above, who's odd.

And how wimsically perverse of the editors to include Charles Simic's review of Borislav Pekic's How to Quiet a Vampire in the same issue

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