Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ray Monk on Russell Volume II

In the May 17, 2001 issue of the NYROB is a review of Ray Monk's Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness 1921-1970.  Years ago I read Monk's biography on Wittgenstein and enjoyed it; so I was tempted by Monk's book on Russell -- until I got into the review:  Monk's first volume on Russell ends in 1921.  "Monk describes how Wittgenstein totally and finally destroyed Russell's confidence in his philosophical program, and in effect expelled him from his own Garden of Eden, which was mathematics and the philosophy of mathematics.  Wittgenstein had argued that there could be no complete foundation for human knowledge, whether in mathematics or in other domains."

I bought a used copy of Volume one, partly because I like Monk, but decided to pass on Volume II (even though a used "acceptable" copy is available for 96 cents from Amazon  The reviewer, Stuart Hampshire, writes "Monk's disillusionment and disgust pervade the last three hundred pages of the book, and many readers will feel that the long account of all the legal squabbles within the family is wearisome and excessive.  Russell knew that he had totally failed as a parent when John became estranged and finally went mad, and when his second son . . . was forbidden by his mother to speak to him after a divorce.  In Monk's family history the final horror came when Russell's granddaughter, Lucy, who was first loved and then neglected by him, burned herself alive after recording in detail the stages of her despair."

"D. H. Lawrence had told Russell that he was consumed by hatred and contempt and only passed as a man of peace.  Lawrence wrote early in the war: 'You are really the super war spirit.  What you want is to jab and strike, like the soldier with the bayonet, only you are sublimated into words. . . .  You are simply full of repressed desires, which have become savage and anti-social. . . .  As a woman said to me, who had been to one of your meetings, "It seemed so strange, with is face looking so evil, to be talking about peace and love.  He can't have meant what he said."'"

"Lawrence again: 'It is not the hatred of falsity which inspires you.  It is the hatred of people, of flesh and blood. . . .  Why don't you own it?"

In preparation for moving to Idaho (which will probably be delayed, but even so) I've been rather ruthless in getting rid of books.  There are certain subjects and writers I expect never to return to -- for different reasons, but I haven't gotten serious about the book case that contains my library of philosophy.  I don't think there is anything in there from Russell; so this volume by Monk will be the only one but Monk will be writing about Wittgenstein in it which I shall be more interested in, probably, than anything he has to say about Russell.  I'll keep the volumes I have by and about Wittgenstein.  After spending time with him I ended up with a view of his (or of my own developed after reading him) I am comfortable with: there is the truth of the Tractatus, but there is also a realm that one must pull a ladder up to -- if one chooses to do so.  In my case I choose it.  I'm not sure I could ever again associate myself with a branch of organized Christianity, but neither could I follow any particular philosopher.   The philosophers  I like best weren't looking for followers.  I make take with me to Idaho, Wittgenstein, Gadamer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche (because of the poetry), Plato, and several that have written about philosophers like Hayden White, Joel Weinsheimer, and Ray Monk.

My Irish Terrier, Jessica, chewed up a volume by Spinoza: good girl!

I've gotten rid of everything on the American Civil War and the "War on Terror."  As to the latter which I was quite worked up about for a time, I'm reminded of the Cold War while I was working for McDonnell Douglas: there were critics writing that the Military and the industries supporting them were building up the formidability of the USSR unrealistically in order to get congress to approve weapons purchases.  Yeah the USSR was out there and they were doing mischief but historians have looked back at them and now know that they weren't as tough as they and we (in the military-industrial complex) argued.  At the present time our military-industrial complex does not seem to be so much after the sorts of weapons they were looking for when I worked for MDC and Boeing.  Now it is technological sophistication, better and more sophisticated spying equipment and drones.  But will Iran or a paramilitary group like ISIS every invade the US?  No.  If I were still working for Boeing I might be working on RFPs (Requests for Proposals) asking us to bid on electronic devices used for spying on terrorist organizations, and drones for bombing them.  I'd probably enjoy working on the proposals, but I'm not interested in that sort of thing now, in retirement, as I am in training my new pup (now 6 months old) and thinking about Idaho.

Idaho though isn't thinking of me quite yet.  My son will be undergoing an operation which will delay the move -- give me a bit more time to work on maturing Jessica, weed out books, kitchen utensils, silk plants (Susan liked them, I didn't), etc.

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