Men may be divided into those who are in favour of life and those who are against it. Among those who are against it there are sensitive and wise and penetrating people who are to offended and discouraged by the shapelessness of spontaneity, by the lack of order among human beings who wish to live their own lives, not in obedience to any common pattern.

This is from the final paragraph of Isaiah Berlin’s Freedom and its Betrayal, a transcription of six lectures delivered over British radio in 1952, each concerning a different 18th or 19th century thinker. Acute philosophy and political thought, given in language that is not clotted with jargon. I’ve found much in it to argue with and to think on. There is something in here that relates to thornyc‘s post a couple of days ago about freakiness. Berlin is tracing the roots of both today’s “liberal” and “conservative” thought. It’s helpful to recognize that many of the opposing world views we have to negotiate are verisons of arguments that have been in play for hundreds of years.

If I had to sum up my feelings about myself these days I think that they are primarily ones of inadequacy. I’m proud of how far my skills have gotten me, but I feel that for the next part of my life there is a whole other tool set that I need to cultivate.

I’m also rereading Kathy Acker’s My Death, My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini, written twenty years ago. Her books have always been touchstones for me, but now I’m not so sure.

0 Comments +

  1. It is interesting how “early success” can cultivate a sense of inadequacy. I find myself thinking about “next acts” a lot and not really knowing how one structures one’s life to do this.

    About ten years ago, after a five year period of rapid promotion and success, I asked a man I deeply respect (and of some noted public acclaim) how I might make my next move. He asked in return what would happen if I stayed right where I was until retirement. In some ways, I have taken this route, but his question still haunts me.

    Now, I find myself considering similar questions about “tools.” I can’t account for my “early success” other than a confluence of curiosity, a good “education,” and being in the right place at the right time. I am sanguine about the first two factors because of their personal specificity. The third makes me uneasy. Still, I am beginning to understand better that meaningful influence is related to location and that we grow in adult life by virtue of our associations and locations.

    It speaks a bit to the notes about “anxiety and torpor” we’ve exchanged. I’ll try to respond more thoughtfully to your email soon (I have a crazy day ahead).

  2. It is interesting how “early success” can cultivate a sense of inadequacy. I find myself thinking about “next acts” a lot and not really knowing how one structures one’s life to do this.

    About ten years ago, after a five year period of rapid promotion and success, I asked a man I deeply respect (and of some noted public acclaim) how I might make my next move. He asked in return what would happen if I stayed right where I was until retirement. In some ways, I have taken this route, but his question still haunts me.

    Now, I find myself considering similar questions about “tools.” I can’t account for my “early success” other than a confluence of curiosity, a good “education,” and being in the right place at the right time. I am sanguine about the first two factors because of their personal specificity. The third makes me uneasy. Still, I am beginning to understand better that meaningful influence is related to location and that we grow in adult life by virtue of our associations and locations.

    It speaks a bit to the notes about “anxiety and torpor” we’ve exchanged. I’ll try to respond more thoughtfully to your email soon (I have a crazy day ahead).

  3. I’m trying to imagine what “tools” you feel you need that you feel you don’t already possess.

    “Drive” and “ambition” aren’t really tools.

    “Ruthlessness”?

    Are you feeling that you’re presently in a transitional period, or one of complacency?

  4. I’m trying to imagine what “tools” you feel you need that you feel you don’t already possess.

    “Drive” and “ambition” aren’t really tools.

    “Ruthlessness”?

    Are you feeling that you’re presently in a transitional period, or one of complacency?

  5. I have always found the work of Kathy Acker to be infuriating beyond belief (with the possible exception of “Pussy, King of the Pirates,” and that only because of Dianne DiMassa’s illustrations).

    What do you see in her writing? Should I give her another chance 12 years later, now that I am not a cynical Cal Arts student, fed up to death with my peers’ Acker worship? I gave David Lynch a second try after getting over hearing the term, “Lynchian,” ad-nauseum in those days…

  6. I have always found the work of Kathy Acker to be infuriating beyond belief (with the possible exception of “Pussy, King of the Pirates,” and that only because of Dianne DiMassa’s illustrations).

    What do you see in her writing? Should I give her another chance 12 years later, now that I am not a cynical Cal Arts student, fed up to death with my peers’ Acker worship? I gave David Lynch a second try after getting over hearing the term, “Lynchian,” ad-nauseum in those days…

  7. That Berlin book sounds awesome! Who are some of the figures it covers? (I’ll see if we have a copy here in the library.)

    Acker’s technique speaks to me, personally. But, then, as you allude to about yourself, I’ve hardly read her in a couple of years.

    I have also just begun reading James Kelman (Scottish novelist) lately. The writing is in an urban, working-class, Glasgow dialect, and he is dogged about writers being committed to their own locales with their working classes. Admirable. Still to see what he does with it.

    I also need to finally get around to reading some Zinn, at some point.

    Thanks for the reading tip!

  8. That Berlin book sounds awesome! Who are some of the figures it covers? (I’ll see if we have a copy here in the library.)

    Acker’s technique speaks to me, personally. But, then, as you allude to about yourself, I’ve hardly read her in a couple of years.

    I have also just begun reading James Kelman (Scottish novelist) lately. The writing is in an urban, working-class, Glasgow dialect, and he is dogged about writers being committed to their own locales with their working classes. Admirable. Still to see what he does with it.

    I also need to finally get around to reading some Zinn, at some point.

    Thanks for the reading tip!

  9. I’m very lax about responding – as any one will tell you, so don’t worry and don’t rush. I’m not thinking about success so much as what I want the next part of my life to be like. I always figure that recognition will come and go pretty much independently of my efforts to attract it, so I try not to pay it much mind. What I can control is the people I get to spend actual time with and speak deeply with. That’s of much greater import to me.

  10. I’m very lax about responding – as any one will tell you, so don’t worry and don’t rush. I’m not thinking about success so much as what I want the next part of my life to be like. I always figure that recognition will come and go pretty much independently of my efforts to attract it, so I try not to pay it much mind. What I can control is the people I get to spend actual time with and speak deeply with. That’s of much greater import to me.

  11. Rather than argue for her, I would say that it’s probably best to think about her work like that of a rock band – sometimes all your friends love a band that leaves you cold. Kathy is like that – she does a very specific thing and not everyone goes for it. For me she encapsulated a certain way that I thought about culture and being an artist and a New Yorker, that I had never seen in print before. For the first time I felt that these were books that were written by someone like me, rather than written at me. Since I first discovered her I’ve had that experience with a number of writers. But I don’t think you should have to feel like you need to read her if the work doesn’t do anything for you.

  12. Rather than argue for her, I would say that it’s probably best to think about her work like that of a rock band – sometimes all your friends love a band that leaves you cold. Kathy is like that – she does a very specific thing and not everyone goes for it. For me she encapsulated a certain way that I thought about culture and being an artist and a New Yorker, that I had never seen in print before. For the first time I felt that these were books that were written by someone like me, rather than written at me. Since I first discovered her I’ve had that experience with a number of writers. But I don’t think you should have to feel like you need to read her if the work doesn’t do anything for you.

  13. Everything from driving a car to a habit of consistancy in my contacts with people: following up and following through.

    I hadn’t thought of ruthlessness before, but maybe that’s it – make way for the new cutthroat me.

    And most definitely transitional, one that seems to be going on and on.

  14. Everything from driving a car to a habit of consistancy in my contacts with people: following up and following through.

    I hadn’t thought of ruthlessness before, but maybe that’s it – make way for the new cutthroat me.

    And most definitely transitional, one that seems to be going on and on.

  15. hmmmmm… well, i didn’t really mean “success” to solely mean recognition. I meant it more as a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment.

    I am increasingly lax in responding to email, too. The effect of an overly diluted life.

  16. hmmmmm… well, i didn’t really mean “success” to solely mean recognition. I meant it more as a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment.

    I am increasingly lax in responding to email, too. The effect of an overly diluted life.

  17. Your thoughtfulness and desire to grow are a source of inspiration. Reading your posts, and the learned responses from your friends, I’m faced with the shocking inadequacy of my literary hunger.
    Would it be surprising for me to say that I admire you for your mind?

  18. Your thoughtfulness and desire to grow are a source of inspiration. Reading your posts, and the learned responses from your friends, I’m faced with the shocking inadequacy of my literary hunger.
    Would it be surprising for me to say that I admire you for your mind?

  19. I’m very lax about responding – as any one will tell you, so don’t worry and don’t rush. I’m not thinking about success so much as what I want the next part of my life to be like. I always figure that recognition will come and go pretty much independently of my efforts to attract it, so I try not to pay it much mind. What I can control is the people I get to spend actual time with and speak deeply with. That’s of much greater import to me.

  20. Rather than argue for her, I would say that it’s probably best to think about her work like that of a rock band – sometimes all your friends love a band that leaves you cold. Kathy is like that – she does a very specific thing and not everyone goes for it. For me she encapsulated a certain way that I thought about culture and being an artist and a New Yorker, that I had never seen in print before. For the first time I felt that these were books that were written by someone like me, rather than written at me. Since I first discovered her I’ve had that experience with a number of writers. But I don’t think you should have to feel like you need to read her if the work doesn’t do anything for you.

  21. Everything from driving a car to a habit of consistancy in my contacts with people: following up and following through.

    I hadn’t thought of ruthlessness before, but maybe that’s it – make way for the new cutthroat me.

    And most definitely transitional, one that seems to be going on and on.

  22. The Berlin book covers Helvetius, Rousseau, Fitche, Hegel, Saint-Simon and Maistre. The ppassage qouted above is from the Maistre lecture.

    You are going to be one busy pup with all this reading you’re proposing!

  23. The Berlin book covers Helvetius, Rousseau, Fitche, Hegel, Saint-Simon and Maistre. The ppassage qouted above is from the Maistre lecture.

    You are going to be one busy pup with all this reading you’re proposing!

  24. The Berlin book covers Helvetius, Rousseau, Fitche, Hegel, Saint-Simon and Maistre. The ppassage qouted above is from the Maistre lecture.

    You are going to be one busy pup with all this reading you’re proposing!

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