The Spinoza Problem

On one level, it was a book about two very different influential figures separated by three hundred years. It was interesting to learn about seventeenth century Jewish life in Amsterdam, and about Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. However, two factors gave the writing much more significance and impact.

51ks87xytml-_sx320_bo1204203200_This book has much to commend it, despite the ending which I found disappointing.

As I read the book I was thinking of giving it a five star rating, and the phrase that kept coming into my head was “a very satisfying read”. I had initially purchased the book on the strength of having previously read Yalom’s psychotherapy books, and another of his novels (which has what must be the most unattractive title for many readers – When Nietszche Wept). That novel, and his professional books, convinced me that the author could write very accessible prose on potentially challenging subjects, and that he was able to create characters with real psychological depth.

This book was satisfying on so many levels. It was written after the author was inspired by a visit to the Spinoza museum in Rijnsburg where he learned that Alfred Rosenberg (the intellectual force behind much of the Nazi anti-semitism) had deliberately and personally stolen the library of the Jewish philosopher.  Continue reading “The Spinoza Problem”

The Misty Woman (2 of 3)

In this poem, Hardy very few adjectives.

30458174575_4d1c3a1450_zIn my first posting on Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Voice’ about his dead wife Emma’s calling to him (The Misty Woman (1 of 3), I attempted to described how a close examination of the language of the first line reflected not only his intense longing, but the theme of the whole poem – a woman moving in and out of his consciousness.

What I want to do in this posting is take a closer look at one aspect of the structure of the language throughout the remainder of the whole poem and examine how that contributes (perhaps, albeit subconsciously) to the meaning.

The Voice

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling. Continue reading “The Misty Woman (2 of 3)”

The Misty Woman (1 of 3)

My nickname for Hardy’s “The Voice” is “The Misty Woman”. It is a poem about a woman coming in and out of his clear recollections – about a woman moving in and out of the mist.

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In ‘The Voice’ Thomas Hardy hears his dead wife, Emma, calling to him, saying that now she is as Hardy first knew her at their meeting in March 1870 in Cornwall where Emma lived.

He questions whether it really is Emma that he hears, or is it only the breeze blowing that he mistakes for her voice.

His first wife’s death is the subject of most of the verses in Hardy’s Poems 1912-13.

The Voice

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

I first tried to get to grips with this poem over forty years ago when I studied it for A Level English Literature.  Since then I have taught it to students studying on GCSE, A Level, and Degree courses.  In the past twenty years my academic interests have moved from literature to language.  What I want to do in a series of three postings is to show how a sharper attention to the structure of the language can enhance our understanding of the poem.

In this first post I want to devote my attention solely to the first line

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me

Here Hardy is baring his emotion, and setting up the tension between reality and illusion that he agonises over throughout the rest of the poem.  Continue reading “The Misty Woman (1 of 3)”

Towards Solving the Trump Mystery

While is may sometimes be true that personality is more important than policy, it isn’t always so.

FullSizeRenderOn 12 February 1999, Bill Clinton survived his impeachment, despite having lied under oath and having committed “sexual acts” with a junior member of staff – things which would have resulted in the departure of most politicians.  In chapter 10 of his book, Lessons from the Top, Gavin Esler describes how, at the time, the Senate majority leader, the Republican Trent Lott was utterly bewildered:

There are only a couple of things in my career that I still have not been able to understand. One is the fact that the American people apparently continued to support Clinton through the whole thing, knowing what he did, knowing what he said, knowing how he demeaned the office … I still think history needs to try to  explain why the American people thought that was all okay.

I felt something of the same confusion over Trump’s election.   Continue reading “Towards Solving the Trump Mystery”

Ambition of Men

Given the limited scope, the book, on the surface sounds as if it could have been very boring. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

29397486I had been an admirer of Harris’s work for a number of years and bought this on the strength of his ability to inform, tease, and entertain me. I have to say that I found this the strangest of his thrillers to date, and yet one which was at the same time, satisfying.

What is different about the book is the extremely limited scope. There is limited terrorism, gunfire, bombs, and death, but all this takes place in a very minor capacity, almost at a tangent to the central focus. All of the main “action” takes place within the Vatican – within two buildings, in fact. The “action” is simply the election of a new pope.

Given the limited scope, the book, on the surface, sounds as if it could have been very boring. However, nothing could be further from the truth. By limiting his attention Harris has succeeded in creating a very intense, powerful portrayal of a religious and political intrigue. Continue reading “Ambition of Men”

Triple Abuse in Education

Schools where there is a variety of religious views (including those with none) provide the means where children can come in contact with differences on a regular basis and learn that there is more to human beings than the presence or absence of a religious creed.

510750075_eeee488cd6_zThe British Government’s recent decision to allow full religious discrimination in school admissions, and the view of the Scottish Government that sixth formers are not allowed to withdraw themselves from religious observances in schools, are abusive and dangerous in at least three ways.

Abusive to Society

One of the ways in which human beings learn to change their views is not particularly through rational argument (though that sometimes can happen), but through prolonged exposure to, and contact with difference.  Many of us can testify how having to work for a long period with someone different (for example, from a different race, a different culture, or a different sexuality) has helped us identify our previously unacknowledged prejudice, and helped us modify our opinions.   Continue reading “Triple Abuse in Education”

Keeping It In Saferoom

Whatever you might want to use Evernote for, Saferoom now enables you to do that with even more confidence than before.

426799067_55027d4244_zI find it so satisfying when someone develops a piece of software that meets a real need and makes my life a lot simpler.  I was really pleased to discover the Saferoom app (and the desktop versions for Mac and Windows) this week.  It has solved a professional problem that I have had for some time.

I work as a counsellor/psychotherapist in Private Practice, and since 2009 I have been using Evernote to help me run my business.  Evernote is basically an electronic filing cabinet that lets you store notes, documents of all kinds, photographs, web pages, audio and video recordings, and hand written scribbles.  However, despite its usefulness and amazing flexibility, Evernote has always had a minor problem that Saferoom has now solved.   Continue reading “Keeping It In Saferoom”