Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The “art” in Sartre ...

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” Auden once wrote. But then he never got a chance to read “In Praise of Air,” a poem by Simon Armitage just installed on a building along a busy road at the University of Sheffield, England, and billed as the world’s first bit of air-cleansing verse.
Open Culture has posted the doodles of Jean-Paul Sartre (via Peter Gratton). While not as skillful as those of Jorge Luis Borges or as striking as those of Franz Kafka, they do have a certain whimsical air to them. Some research suggests that doodling enhances one’s concentration and memory, so if you see people doodling while you are giving a talk, don’t assume they aren’t paying attention. Just ask Jesse “During talks, I draw heads” Prinz.

Epictetus, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein — they’re just some of the philosophers known for putting big ideas into small packages. They are great to read, yet the aphoristic or epigrammatic style is not very common among philosophers today. Sydney Morgenbesser comes to mind as a more recent master of the philosophical quip (e.g., “Of course pragmatism is true; the trouble is it doesn’t work.”). Fans of this genre should be aware that Jerry Dworkin has put together Philosophy: A Commonplace Book, which is a goldmine of philosophers’ aphorisms, quips, jokes, insults, and the like.
There is probably more out there, given that we live in an age of a new literary art form, the tweet, and I imagine that there are good providers of philosophically-related insight or amusement on Twitter. For example, check out this article in the LA Times on @NeinQuarterly (“At Starbucks I order under the name Godot. Then leave.”). Of course you all already follow @dailynouseditor. But who out there in Twitterdom should philosophers follow for the occasional pause to reflect–or chuckle?

This is a very different kind of Game of Thrones spoiler. Francis Schmidt, associate professor of art and animation at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, was suspended without pay for a photo he shared on Google+, where it was seen by several colleagues. The photo? A picture of his daughter wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt with the words “I will take what is mine with fire & blood” written on it. The quote is from Daenerys Targaryen, mother of dragons, rightful heir to the blah blah blah… in other words, a character on the show.  The dean of the college took the posting of the photo as a threat, and according to Inside Higher Ed, a security official at the school “said that ‘fire’ could be kind of a proxy for ‘AK-47s.’”
Are you familiar with Hanlon’s Razor? One version is this: never assume malice when incompetence will do. This is generally a good heuristic, I’ve found.
This case sounds like incompetence, right? Except for: “Schmidt believes he was targeted in part because he filed a grievance against the college a week before the post for being passed up for a sabbatical.” Hmmm.
There are other reports of the story at TechDirt and Gawker. (via Michaela McSweeney)