Monday, 18 May 2015

Jennifer Nagel (2014) - Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy involving the study of knowledge.  What is the different between knowing and believing?  How do we know that what we know is not something we dreamed up?

My books have been boxed up and are being moved to our new home.. new bookcases to be built.  One or two are lying around.. this small Very Short Introduction series from Foyles..

From the end of the chapter, 'Rationalism and empiricism'

The ideal, of course, would be to find a theory of knowledge that explains both the abstract and the observational (and how they fit together).  Making progress towards that goal seems to require a deeper understanding of the relationship between the first- and third-person points of view on knowledge, a problem that remains a very active research topic in contemporary epistemology, and is the subject matter of Chapter 5.  In modern terminology, the choice between taking a first-person or a third-person approach is the choice between 'internalism' and 'externalism'.  The importance of this choice became very clear in the 1960s, as philosophers struggled to answer a surprising challenge to traditional ways of analysing the concept of knowledge.

The first-person approach example is from Descartes (rationalism):  "What can I know for certain?"

The third-person approach example is from Locke (empiricism):  "What do human beings know?"

Friday, 8 May 2015

Nagai Kafu (1909) - A Strange Tale from East of the River

Slightly different title in
this latest edition (2013)
This is a collection of stories by Nagai Kafu (永井 荷風), the pen-name of Nagai Sokichi (永井 壮吉 - 1879-1959).

In 1905 he was working in New York City for a Japanese bank... and in 1906 he travelled to Paris and London..  Nagai was known for his Chinese poetry.  1905 was the year that my great grandfather was travelling across the USA, then to Japan, China, India... in the opposite direction... and back to London in 1906.  They were travelling in opposite directions and probably never met.

The stories from this book were first published elsewhere - the first is from a magazine, Shinshousetsu (新小説) - and later, the stories were compiled into this book, 'A Strange Tale from East of the River' (or 'Something Strange Across the River' (濹東綺譚, Bokutō Kidan, 1937).

From 'The River Sumida' (すみだ川, Sumidagawa):
Taking the lamp in his hand, he went upstairs to Chokichi's room. 
There were several books on the desk, and with them a book box of cedar.  Ragetsu took out his spectacle case and looked curiously over the textbooks, bound in the Occidental manner.  Something dropped to the floor.  It was a picture of O-ito, in the festive spring dress of a geisha.  Ragetsu put it carefully back into the book from which it had fallen, and went on with his inspection.  This time he came upon a letter.  It seemed to be unfinished, the last sentence being interrupted where the paper had been torn off.  There was enough all the same to make clear what the finished letter would have contained.  Chokichi and O-ito had said good-bye, and day by day, as their worlds moved further and further apart, their hearts must also grow apart.  They had been friends as children, but they would one day be strangers.  Chokichi told in great detail how it grieved him, the knowledge that even if they were to meet from time to time they would no longer share the same feelings.  He had therefore decided to be either an actor or a musician, but these wishes, too, had been denied him, and now, helplessly envying the good fortune of Kichi the barber's son, he passed useless, aimless hours.  He did not have the courage to kill himself.  His one hope was to fall ill and die.
Notes... The poet, Matsuo Basho, lived near Sumida River.. His pen-name, bashou (芭蕉) means banana plant, which grew on the banks of the river.

And Curlew River - composed by Benjamin Britten - was based on a Noh play called 'Sumida River', which Britten saw in Japan during his visit in 1956.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Soseki Natsume (1908) - The Miner

(Available from Sep. 2015)

[夏目漱石の 『鉱夫』]

So this was me back then... reading Soseki... and just as he lived in London when he was young.. I was living far away from home in Japan, picking up colloquial words in Japanese that I'd never need ever again, yet each with their own unique, yet irrelevant, peculiarity (which is probably an oxymoron...)  It also captures my taste for p'taters... and I'll often find myself on the edge of town with a packet of chips.. ready to explore out further...

Amazon writes: "The Miner is the most daringly experimental and least well-known novel of the great Meiji writer Natsume Soseki. An absurdist tale about the indeterminate nature of human personality, written in 1908, it was in many ways a precursor to the work of Joyce and Beckett."

(There's also a lot of Joyce and Beckett that are excellent precursors to 'Joyce' and 'Beckett'...)

I saw why the stream made so much noise: it was full of big rocks.  They were irregularly shaped and, lying down or thrusting upward, they seemed to be there for the express purpose of blocking the flow.  The water was crashing against them, and it was running at an incline.  It came dancing down as if it were being pursued, spreading out the force of its fall from the mountain in easy payments.  So while it might be called a stream, in fact it was more like a broad waterfall paid out in monthly installments. Thus, for a stream with so little water, it was surprisingly turbulent.  The water came rushing down with the reckless abandon of a pushy Tokyoite and flowed past, spouting white foam and twisting and turning like blue, sticky strands of candy.  It was awfully noisy.  Meanwhile, the sun was going down bit by bit.  I looked up but couldn't find anyplace it was shining.  There was just a soft glow over where it had sunk down, and the mountains shouldering that portion of the sky stood out greenish-black.  The time of year was May, but it was cold.  The sound of the water alone made it seem like anything but summer.  And the color of that mountain, with the setting sun on its back and its face in shadow - what could you possibly call that colour?  You could get away with purple or black or green if you simply wanted to give it a name, but how do you set down the way that colour felt?  The mountain looked as if at any moment it was going to lift up, float over my head, and crunch down on top of me.  That was probably what was making me feel so cold.  Vaguely aware that, in another hour or so, every last thing all around me was going to turn the same eerie colour as that mountain over there, and that Chouzou and Ibaraki and I were going to be wrapped in that single, world-enveloping hue, I must have realized that the colour that everything would be in an hour or so was the colour of that one special place where the sun was going down, and sensed that at any moment the colour of the mountain was going to spread from the one special place to take in everything, and this was what had made me feel as if the mountain was going to lift up and crunch down on top of me - which is the analysis of the situation that I came up with just now, sitting at my desk, I'll have to stop this.  Free time inspires a lot of pointless activity.  I was just cold, that's all - so cold that I began to envy Ibaraki his red blanket.