Author Quotes

Kierkegaard On “How” Philosophy


“Though he very rarely characterized himself as a philosopher, that is how world history remembers Søren Aabye Kierkegaard. And yet, while Socrates was his sage and he profoundly respected Kant, Kierkegaard ultimately became a virulent critic of philosophy, especially of the academic ilk. G.W.F Hegel was the regnant philosopher king of early to mid-nineteenth-century European philosophy. While Kierkegaard, in his early career, admired the speculative German thinker, he ultimately concluded that Hegel and other intellectual system builders “are like a man who has built a vast palace while he himself lives next door.” Writing in his journal, Kierkegaard insists, “Spiritually, a man’s thoughts must be the building in which he lives–otherwise it is wrong.” (JN, vol. 2, Journal JJ: 490, p.279). In addition to being unable to bring their scholarly studies to quotidian life, Kierkegaard complained that philosophers neglected the question of how to communicate the wisdom that philosophers (lovers of wisdom) are supposed to care about and ultimately possess.

Plato wrestled with the question of whether or not the written word was an aid or impediment to the good and just life, but for the most part the focus in philosophy has always been on the what, on the content of thought, as though wisdom in life were a mere matter of information capable of being directly disseminated en masse. With their emphasis on reason, Hegel and other virtuosi of abstractions spent little time pondering how it would be best to communicate their conclusions. Indeed, philosophers can seem almost narcissistic in their indifference to the subjective coordinates of their readers. They reason through an issue such as “What is love?” and then publish the argument, usually in a treatise form accessible only to the likes of philosophy professors.

Unlike other members of the Socrates guild, Kierkegaard grappled with the question of the how, as opposed to the what, of communication. Someone with an epistemological interest might conclude that while most philosophers probe the question of knowledge, Kierkegaard made a study of belief; Kierkegaard, however, was concerned with more that nodding intellectual assent.”

– From the Introduction to “The Quotable Kierkegaard”, edited by Gordon Marino
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As a college student studying theology, philosophy, and aesthetics, I quickly grew to distrust the tendency of intellectual academia to ponder all heady subject matter and comfortably sink into complacency in personal action and advocacy. At the same time I realized that the men whose lives I admired were founded on simple and consistent action rather than deep contemplation. Reality tells us that all men are invariably hypocrites at some point, but it has proven more life-giving to experience life with open men of conviction and action than to admire the thoughts and art of self-assured and selfish men.

I was first surprised by Kierkegaard when I started reading “Fear And Trembling.” I was completely caught off guard both by the creative style and intimate content of the work. The self-exposure required to open your own existential questions surrounding a Biblical narrative is starkly different from a treatise expounding on how neatly you’ve completed your understanding of the concepts involved.

While I cannot attest for the personal lives of authors and thinkers like Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton and Albert Camus, their candor, down-to-earthness, and even comic qualities show a confidence to be themselves and a capability to attack heady subjects without looking down on the laymen.

I look forward to writing a future post including a selection of potent quotes from The Quotable Kierkegaard.

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Further Reading

Kierkegaard On Gettin Rid Of Faith

Keats’ Fear Of Creative Death

G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday

55 Classics Review #10 – Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers


Up to this point, I’ve been delighted by the books I’ve read for the 55 List. I mostly chose books for the list which I already hoped to love. This will be the first to break that streak of satisfaction. There are few books I expected to enjoy more than Mary Poppins, and not many have so greatly disappointed me.

I was disappointed on multiple levels by Mary Poppins. I grew up delighting in the Disney film and, like the multitudes, saw the recently released film Saving Mr. Banks which proposes a version of the history surrounding the author’s tumultuous relationship with Walt Disney. I found the Disney version of the history suspect from the start, but I was all the more eager to read the original text for myself. Reading with all this in mind further complicated the experience.

Mary Poppins is written as a series of short adventures in the world of Mary Poppins, the conceited, magical, aloof nursemaid who shows up and continually mesmerizes and criticizes the Banks’ children. Each chapter stands alone and some were really very wonderful. I especially loved a certain chapter concerning the language baby’s speak before they get their teeth. Travers alludes to a few mythological themes and lullaby-type fancies that were very original and which I really enjoyed.

Overall, if I had no previous knowledge of the concept, I would have thought the book was decent. If there was no movie and you asked for a quick thought, I would tell you that everything about the book was enjoyable except Mary Poppins herself. She is the wet blanket in every magical theme. She is aloof and self-obsessive at best and rude and condescending at worst. She steals from the children, does what she wants regardless of their petitions, and constantly tries to leave them out.

All of this wouldn’t be felt so harshly if Disney hadn’t made a film which constantly emphasizes whimsy that Mary Poppins is constantly attempting to stay stern against. In the film, she begrudgingly participates in the whimsy which constantly springs up at her magical heels. She is the exact hope a child might have for a magical adult who doesn’t prefer non-sense but accepts and appreciates joyful magical experiences. The movie sells a version of the unhappy and disconnected Banks’ family, relatively wealthy but without emotional ties until Mary Poppins tricks them and unites them. In the book, the Banks’ home is the poorest on their middle-class street and their father is a cheerful, optimistic sort who seems to take hardship in stride. I haven’t read the other books in the series yet, but the idea of Mr. Banks being saved by Mary Poppins seems to come completely from the Disney rewrite, which makes the entire theme of Saving Mr. Banks, even its very name, a complete fabrication of the Disney brand.

So Mary Poppins is originally a less agreeable figure and Mr. Banks seems like a pretty ideal father figure. Then Disney turns the entire story on its head and douses it in heavy quantities of whimsy.

The most frustrating aspect of the entire debacle is that I can’t help but prefer the film version to the book. I actually think that Disney’s rewrite made the story more engaging and agreeable. I liked the book, but I love the movie. I’m sure that some of that is due to sentimentality, but I so strongly identify with a parenting and mentoring style that emphasizes respect of the minds and emotions of children that I found everything about Mary Poppins off-putting. She represents a harshness and stupidity toward children that you wouldn’t expect from someone who knows the stars as personal friends and receives birthday parties from zoos full of talking animals.

The book ends with Mary Poppins disappearing and every adult in the house complaining about her vanity and egotism and how much damage control they have to do. The children ignore these complains, more eagerly wondering if she will ever come back to grace them with her wonderful presence again. I couldn’t help closing the book agreeing with the adults, feeling that the fun times didn’t quite pay for the constant snubbing and threats.

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Further Reading

Norton Juster On The Perils of Writing

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

C.S. Lewis On Writing For Children

Jules Feiffer Encourages Failure


 

Jules Feiffer was a huge catalyst in the creation of The Phantom Tollbooth. He wasn’t simply the illustrator, but a next-door neighbor and co-dreamer with Norton Juster. We often hear about the value of resilience through failure, but Feiffer seems almost to encourage an attitude of looking forward to it. A failure often carries more potential for illumination than a straightforward success.

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Further Reading

Norton Juster On Creative Agony

Kurt Vonnegut Says Hate Gets Things Done

Mark Twain’s Amusement With Pains

 

Norton Juster On The Agony Of Creating


Norton Juster on writing and The Phantom Tollbooth from Maria Popova on Vimeo.

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As I make my way through the whimsical world of The Phantom Tollbooth for the first time, I am delighted as a reader and reassured as a writer. To hear that such genius minds as Maurice Sendak and Norton Juster had fears in the creative process and still managed to endear themselves to others through their mad ideas gives me hope and freedom to believe that we can continue to connect through silly stories.

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Further Reading

Dave Eggers’ Fear As An Author

In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

J.R.R. Tolkien On Creativity And Fear

Where Wendell Berry Finds Peace


When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought
Of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things
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It is a thing of awe to consider how much more dangerous are the lives of wild animals, yet how void of fear they remain. Of course we understand that, biologically-speaking, the ability to plan our futures and the resulting tendency toward worry is a product of the superior functionality of the human mind. Yes, of course, worry is a small price to pay for mental capacity toward so many other higher skills.

Yet, when we desire calm and peace, we venture out into the simple and violent natural world, where nothing is safe and peace pervades.

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Further Reading

What Mary Berry Expects Of Her Father

Dave Eggers On Author Fear

C.S. Lewis On Helping Children Cope With A Scary World

We Are All War Memorials


Aftermath

“Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same–and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.”

– by Siegfried Sassoon

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Like so many other Americans since Vietnam, modern Jingoism has made me weary of nationalism in general. This sentiment is not one of anti-patriotism or even anti-war sentiment, but one that makes vigilant effort to consider the costs of war so grave as to be entered into it at the exclusion of all alternatives.

This spring I was devastated to learn that an old high school friend of mine was killed in action. We hadn’t been close in years, but the man was a compassionate light that brought infectious joy into any room he entered. I spent weeks under a dark cloud after I heard the news, trying to understand all that happened. We never do. We, our very lives, are memorials to wars.

We should keep that in mind on Memorial Day and every day.

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“Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.”

I hear some people pursuing the reflection on the tragic “point” of Memorial Day almost to the exclusion of all celebration. I think grief is a very appropriate emotion today, but I think we should create a tone of celebration. We celebrate the lives lived and the gift given by the fallen, the success of their efforts, and the monumental lives and families build on the foundations they have provided.

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“Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?'”

Sassoon asked this after WWI, and shortly his question was answered. We should be turning our grief to sober-mindedness and our celebration to continued action, asking the same question and turning it to wisdom in alleviating further war.

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Further Reading

World War Develops Great Art

“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut

Wendell Berry On Children And The Cold War

Vonnegut Says Hate Is What Gets Things Done


“As a member of a zippier generation, with sparkle in its eyes and a snap in its stride, let me tell you what kept us as high as kites a lot of the time: hatred. All my life I’ve had people to hate — from Hitler to Nixon, not that those two are at all comparable in their villainy. It is a tragedy, perhaps, that human beings can get so much energy and enthusiasm from hate. If you want to feel ten feet tall and as though you could run a hundred miles without stopping, hate beats pure cocaine any day. Hitler resurrected a beaten, bankrupt, half-starved nation with hatred and nothing more. Imagine that.

[…]

The members of your graduating class are not sleepy, are not listless, are not apathetic. They are simply performing the experiment of doing without hate. Hate is the missing vitamin or mineral or whatever in their diet, they have sensed correctly that hate, in the long run, is about as nourishing as cyanide.”

– Kurt Vonnegut, speaking to the graduating class at Fredonia College, 1978.
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I would have loved to hear Kurt Vonnegut speak publically. He was apparently as appreciable a speaker as a writer, as he was very frequently engaged. His tone is always one that catches us off guard with encouragement, whimsy, and dark self-deprecation toward the human race.

While I’m not sure that I have seen any evidence of a generation without hate for fuel, I do find his concept here simple, self-evident, and fundamentally understated else ware. Often men have worked entire philosophies off of a basis that includes this theory, but rarely does one actually think about the fact that fear and hate often work hand in hand as our greatest motivators. The great striding leaps of human ingenuity in the past couple centuries have not helped to build up individual security and eliminate worry and hatred as everyone seems always to be hoping they will. They have been fuel for and sparked by the greatest wars and genocides in history.

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Further Reading

What C.S. Lewis Knew About The Holocaust Before WWII

Vonnegut’s Views On Religion And Science

Wendell Berry On Family And The Cold War

Michael Pollan Didn’t Start This


“Americans today are having a national conversation about food and agriculture that it would have been impossible to imagine even a few short years ago. To many Americans it must sound like a brand-new conversation, with its racing talk about high price for cheap food, or the links between soil and health, or the impossibility of a society eating well and being in good health unless it also farms well. But to read the essays in this sparkling anthology, many of them dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, is to realize just how little of what we are saying and hearing today Wendell Berry hasn’t already said, bracingly, before.

And in that “we” I most definitely, and somewhat abashedly, include myself. I challenge you to find an idea or insight in my own recent writings on food and farming that isn’t prefigured (to put it charitably) in Berry’s essays on agriculture. There might be one or two in there somewhere, but I must say that reading and rereading these essays has been a deeply humbling experience.

It has also been a powerful reminder that the national conversation now unfolding around the subject of food and farming really began back in the 1970s, with the work of Berry and a small handful of his contemporaries, including Francis Moore Lappé, Barry Commoner, and Joan Gussow. All four of these writers are supreme dot connectors, deeply skeptical of reductive science, and far ahead not only in their grasp of the science of ecology but in their ability to actually think ecologically: to draw lines of connection between hamburgers and the price of oil, or between the vibrancy of life in the soil and the health of the plants and animals and people eating from that soil.”

– Michael Pollan, excerpt from his Introduction to Wendell Berry’s farm essay collection Bring It To The Table

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I truly respect men like Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin, but, as Pollan himself lets us know here, they are late to the game when it comes to the crisic farming, economic, and ecological situations today. They were simply born too late, and their interest in the issue is necessarily similar to mine in that it is basically reactionary.

If I were born in the 1940s, would I so easily see the growing problems of the changing system that Berry and Lappé saw the 1960s? I would love to say yes, of course I could spot the obvious flaws, but since almost no one else did, I can’t be confident that I would have been so cautious. We have to look to the men who saw the problems not because of their results but by their roots in poor thinking and short-sighted planning. The Berrys and Fukuokas were thinking differently when the problems were still originating; their thoughts and opinions carry the weight of an utterly alternative outlook from the start.

Do we need younger men to take on this alternative mindset? I certainly hope so; I am eager to be one. Ideally everyone would catch on to a different big picture from the current pipe dreams being dealt out. The problem itself has lasted so long at this point that it would be difficult for those who saw it coming to outlive it. Generations must pick up the torch to make change, but we have to always go back to what went wrong and who witnessed it happening.

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Related Reading

An Agricultural Insight From Tolkien And Lewis

A Japanese Scientist Questions The Reasonability Of Agricutural Science

Wendell Berry On The Difference Btween A Path And A Road

Rod Serling On Speculative Fiction And Censorship


Mike Wallace – “You’ve come a long way since those early days, and perhaps more than any other writer your name is figured in the classic battle — that is television writer — the battle of the writer to be his own man. What happens when a writer like yourself writes something that he really believes in, for television?”

. . .

RS – “Well, depending of course on the thematic treatment you’re using, if you have the temerity to try to dramatize a theme that involves any particular social controversy currently extent, you’re in deep trouble.”

MW – “For instance?”

RS – “Um, a racial theme, for example. My case in point, I think, a show I did for the Steel Hour some years ago, three years ago, called Noon On Doomesday, which was a story which purported to tell what was the aftermath of the alleged kidnapping in Mississippi of the Till boy, the young Chicago negro. And I wrote the script using “black” and “white,” uh, initially. Then it was changed, uh, to suggest an unnamed foreigner. Then the locale was moved from the South to New England, and I’m convinced they’d have gone up to Alaska or the North Pole [using] Eskimos as a possible minority, except I suppose the costume problem was of sufficient severity not to attempt it. But it became a lukewarm, vitiated, emasculated kind of show.”

MW – “You went along with it?”

RS – “All the way. I protested, I went down fighting as most television writers do, thinking, in a strange, oblique, philosophical way that ‘better say something than nothing.’ In this particular show, though, by the time they had finished taking Coca-Cola bottles off the set because the sponser claimed this had southern connotations, suggesting to what depth they went to make this a clean, antisepticly, rigidly, ah, acceptable show. Ah, why, it bore no relationship at all to what we had purported to say initially.”

MW – “Paddy Chayefsky has talked about the insidious influence of what he called ‘pre-censorship.’ How does that work?”

RS – “Pre-censorship is a practice, I think, of most television writers. I can’t speak for all of them. This is the prior knowledge of the writer of those areas which are difficult to try to get through and so a writer will shy away from writing those things which he knows he’s going to have trouble with on a sponsorial or an agency level. We practice it all the time. We just do not write those themes which we know are going to get into trouble.”

MW – “Who’s the culprit? Is it the network? The sponsor? It sure is not the FCC.”

RS – “No, it’s certainly not the FCC, ideally speaking, of course. It’s a combination of culprits in this case, Mike. It’s partly network. It’s principally agency and sponsor. In many ways I think it’s the audience themselves.”

MW – “How do you mean?”

RS – “Well, I’ll give you an example. About a year ago, roughly eleven or twelve months ago, on the Lassie show — this is a story usually told by Sheldon Leonard who was then associated with the show — Lassie was having puppies. And I have two little girls, then aged five and three, who are greatly enamored with this beautiful Collie and they watched the show with great interest. And Lassie gave birth to puppies, and Mike, it was probably one of the most tasteful and delightful and warm things depicting what is this wondrous thing that is birth. And after this show, I think they were many congratulations all around because it was a lovely show, the sort of thing I’d love my kids to watch to show them what is the birth process and how marvelous it is. They got many, many cards and letters. Sample card, from the deep South this was: ‘if I wanted my kids to watch sex shows, I wouldn’t have them turn on that. I could take them to burlesque shows.’ And as a result of the influx of mail, many of the cards, incidentally, as Sheldon tells it, were postmarked at identical moments all in the same handwriting, but each was counted as a singular piece of mail. And as a result, the directive went down that there would be no shows having anything to do with puppies, that is in the actual birth process. Well, obviously, it is this wild lunatic fringe of letter-writers that greatly affect what the sponsor has in mind.”

MW – “You can understand the position of the sponsor, can’t you?”

RS – “In many ways I suppose I can. He’s there to push a product.”

MW – “He has a considerable stake, thus, in what goes on the air.”

RS – “Most assuredly, and in those cases where there is a problem of public taste, in which there is a concern for eliciting negative response from a large mass of people, I can understand why the guys are frightened. I don’t understand, Mike, for example, other evidences and instances of intrusion by sponsors. For example, on Playhouse 90, not a year ago, a lovely show called ‘Judgment At Nuremberg,’I think probably one of the most competently done and artistically done pieces that 90’s done all year. In it, as you recall, mention was made of gas chambers and the line was deleted, cut off the soundtrack. And it mattered little to these guys that the gas involved in concentration camps was cyanide, which bore no resemblance, physical or otherwise, to the gas used in stoves. They cut the line.

MW – “Because the sponsor was…”

RS – “Did not want that awful association made between what was the horror and the misery of Nazi Germany with the nice chrome wonderfully, antiseptically clean beautiful kitchen appliances that they were selling. Now this is an example of sponsor interference which is so beyond logic and which is so beyond taste — this I rebel against.”

MW – “You’ve got a new series coming up called ‘The Twilight Zone.’ You are writing, as well as acting executive producer on this one. Who controls the final product, you or the sponsor?”

RS – “We have what I think, at least theoretically, anyway, because it hasn’t really been put into practice yet, a good working relationship, where in questions of taste and questions of the art form itself and questions of drama, I’m the judge, because this is my medium and I understand it. I’m a dramatist for television. This is the area I know. I’ve been trained for it. I’ve worked for it for twelve years, and the sponsor knows his product but he doesn’t know mine. So when it comes to the commercials, I leave that up to him. When it comes to the story content, he leaves it up to me.”

MW – “Has nothing been changed in the…”

RS – “We changed, in eighteen scripts, Mike, we have had one line changed, which, again, was a little ludicrous but of insufficient basic concern within the context of the story, not to put up a fight. On a bridge of a British ship, a sailor calls down to the galley and asks in my script for a pot of tea, because I believe that it’s constitutionally acceptable in the British Navy to drink tea. One of my sponsors happens to sell instant coffee, and he took great umbrage, or at least minor umbrage anyway, with the idea of saying tea. Well, we had a couple of swings back and forth, nothing serious, and we decided we’d ask for a tray to be sent up to the bridge. But in eighteen scripts, that’s the only conflict we’ve had.”

—–

MW – “Is pre-censorship, though, involved? Are you simply writing easy?”

RS – “In this particular area, no, because we’re dealing with a half hour show which cannot probe like a 90, which doesn’t use scripts as vehicles of social criticism. These are strictly for entertainment.”

MW – “These are potboilers.”

RS – “Oh, no. Un-uh. I wouldn’t call them potboilers at all. No, these are very adult, I think, high-quality half hour, extremely polished films. But because they deal in the areas of fantasy and imagination and science-fiction and all of those things, there’s no opportunity to cop a plea or chop an axe or anything.”

MW – “Well, you’re not gonna be able to cop a plea or chop an axe because you’re going to be obviously working so hard on ‘The Twilight Zone’ that in essence, for the time being and for the foreseeable future, you’ve given up on writing anything important for television, right?”

RS – “Yeah. Well, again, this is a semantic thing — ‘important for television.’ I don’t know. If by important you mean I’m not going to try to delve into current social problems dramatically, you’re quite right. I’m not.”

– Excerpts from Mike Wallace interviewing Rod Serling on The Mike Wallace Interview in anticipation of Serling’s new series, The Twilight Zone, 1959.

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Whether Serling realized it or not in the midst of this smoke clouded interview, he would find his most memorable avenues for social commentary through the less “important for television” resource of speculative fiction. He would also continue to bump heads with McCarthy-Era censorship, having episodes banned from the air for racial and war themes raised among other ethical and philosophical questions.

While this interview remains cordial, it is hard not to recognized a self-censoring vehemence from Serling. Having been in the television industry for about a decade by this point, he is one of the most lauded and heavily censored figures on the stage as he prepares to create The Twilight Zone. Although I can’t say for certain, I would argue that this interview was a very intentional opportunity for Serling to make a public statement that defends his position while promising to toe the line with the censors. On the latter point, I am happy to say he would go on to fail tremendously, creating some of the most immortal and poignant sci-fi television ever made.

I would highly suggest that you watch his previously award-winning tv film “Patterns.” It is probably impossible to find on DVD, but it should be easy to find via YouTube or the like. It’s one of the best films I have ever seen, a commentary on corporate life and ethics that seems prophetic in the current age.

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Recommended Reading

C.S. Lewis and Kingsley Amis On The Value Of Science Fiction

Kurt Vonnegut’s Pessimistic Social Commentary

Frankenstien And Human Nature

How To Get Rid Of Faith


“What those ancient Greeks (who also had some understanding of philosophy) regarded as a task for a whole lifetime, seeing that dexterity in doubting is not acquired in a few days or weeks, what the veteran combatant attained when he had preserved the equilibrium of doubt through all the pitfalls he encountered, who intrepidly denied the certainty of sense-perception and the certainty of the processes of thought, incorrigibly defied the apprehensions of self-love and the insinuations of sympathy–that is where everybody begins in our time.

In our time nobody is content to stop with faith but wants to go further. It would perhaps be rash to ask where these people are going, but it is surely a sign of breeding and culture for me to assume that everybody has faith, for otherwise it would be queer for them to be. . .going further. In those old days it was different, then faith was a task for a whole lifetime, because it was assumed that dexterity in faith is not acquired in a few days of weeks. When the tried oldster drew near to his last hour, having fought the good fight and kept the faith, his heart was still young enough not to have forgotten that fear and trembling which chastened the youth, which the man indeed held in check, but which no man quite outgrows. . .except as he might succeed at the earliest opportunity in going further. Where these revered figures arrived, that is the point where everybody in our day begins to go further.

The present writer is nothing of a philosopher, he has not understood the System, does not know whether it actually exists, whether it is completed; already he has enough for his weak head in the thought of what a prodigious head everybody in our day must have, since everybody has such a prodigious thought. Even though one were capable of converting the whole content of faith into the form of a concept, it does not follow that one has adequately conceived faith and understands how one got into it, or how it got into one.”

– Soren Kierkegaard (under the pseudonym Johannes De Silentio), excerpt from the Preface of Fear And Trembling.
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This sarcastic little preface starts one of the key works of existentialism, a book that champions faith. It turns out that Kierkegaard is, contrary to his claims, capable of presenting very dense philosophical concepts. His goal in this preface seems to be to validate self-doubt in a culture of self-presumption and faith in a culture that assumes it can discover all that there is to know. Doubt and faith exist as check and balance that should last a lifetime, keeping us honest about the nature of the things we believe and helping us to more deeply trust what we have recognized as reliable truth.

The interesting point here is that “our day” for Kierkegaard was the early 1840’s. It is sometimes hard to remember that the troubled ideas of a modern age brimming with scientific discovery are not new. Just because we are only recently making rampant “discoveries for discovery’s sake” does not mean we are the first or second or fifth generation to assume we can get somewhere based on discoveries alone. Humanity has eternally presumed and desired a mysterious completion of (or in) discovery rather than faith in anything. But isn’t that a form of faith in scientific discovery?

Kierkegaard is humble enough to assume that he will never be able to Systematize existence. Just as he calls our implicit faith in sensory-perception and process-of-thought into question, he questions whether faith itself, even if we claim to understand what it entails, can be pulled out and set aside from ration.

When I read this piece I immediately think about how ready we are to hurl a slew of random statistics and scientific studies at problematic points to prove our emotionally-based opinions. There are studies and statistics available to validate nearly every opposing viewpoint available to choose from today; so much so that, though we haven’t created self-presumption and human omnipotence, our generation has nearly perfected the use of them.

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Related reads

The Tragedy Of Having A Baby

What Christians Can Learn From Athiests

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!