Dan Sandman

Archive for the ‘Psychology / Philosophy’ Category

21: A Nietzche Reader by R. J. Hollingdale

In Books, Non-Fiction, Psychology / Philosophy on 23/05/2014 at 12:00 pm

A Nietzche Reader by R. J. HollingdaleFriedrich Nietzche (rhymes with teacher) was a German philologist, philosopher, cultural critic, poet and composer. From reading this book by R. J. Hollingdale (1930 – 2001), I been given an introduction to Nietzche’s writing. Hollingdale’s skill was to divide Nietzche’s many published works into twelve subheading – for example, Morality, Nihilism, Religion, and so on – and to number each excerpt from one to one hundred and forty. This method works well and presents the reader with a broad overview of the opinionated writer’s work.

And in my opinion, if Nietzche had a favourite colour it would be black, if Nietzche was a film character he’d be Blowfeld, and if he was a politician he’d be Joseph Goebbels. The man clearly doesn’t like ‘weak’ people and thinks that man is only driven by his ‘will to power’. In Nietzche World, love is merely the will to attain sexual power, morality is a Christian conspiracy, happiness is a sign of weakness, and for some reason (or no reason – this is philosophy after all) the French composer Bizet is much better than his German contemporary Wagner (at least we agree on something). All in all, to this twenty first century reader, the sheer negativity and extreme cynicism of Nietzche was at times unintentionally comical. But at the same time, I felt a sense of pity towards the writer: ironically pity was something which Nietzche particularly despised.

Some passages from the almost nonsensical Thus Spoke Zarathustra were reminiscent of William Shakespeare’s Poor Tom from King Lear; an elegant breed of rambling, accompanied by a quasi-religious attempt to create a character whose main objective is to convince the reader of his theory ‘will to power’ so that man – and yes ‘unmanly’ things are very bad in Nietzche World – can achieve some sort of crazy transcendence, thus becoming the Ubermensch: the ‘superman’. Oh! How even my sentences are becoming longer and longer until all meaning has vanished. Complete nonsense, but thought provoking all the same.

So I think it’s best to read dark philosophers with a heavy crate of salt and enjoy the superb writing. Nietzche – partly because you’d need to study this stuff at university for twenty years just to understand what he’s on about – is only enjoyable if you see him as a comic character. An egotistical clown, heavily aware of the sentence’s innate power, but displaying it solely to upset the status quo. Thought provoking yes, brilliant yes, but also a buffoon with a massive anger problem.

A truly original historical character.

37: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

In Books, Non-Fiction, Psychology / Philosophy on 13/09/2013 at 12:00 pm

The Examined Life by Stephen GroszAt the start of the week, I begun listening. Whilst playing the piano, whilst drinking a cup of tea, whilst swivelling on my blue office chair; the reassuringly deep sound of Radio 4’s Peter Marinker read to me. His voice was coming from the speakers and telling stories without printed text. The experience was going well but there was something missing. Why did I miss being in control of the words? Later in the week, my mother found a hardback and I was able to explore this question.

The thing is, reading is a conversation; an interaction between writer and reader. As we read, thoughts might pop into our head and take us away. It is possible to read sentences and not take them in. Listening is like this too. We all experience times when we are unable to listen because our mind is on other things. As readers, with physical pages to turn, we can easily skip back if we missed something; as listeners, usually without a rewind button, whole passages can be lost to our wandering minds.

When my mother gave me the book to accompany the audiobook, I was able to experience both medians simultaneously. This was strange because it made me feel self-concious about the speed of my own reading. There was Marinker, plodding through with his slowly intelligent baritone; here was my soft tenor attempting to harmonise at a slightly faster pace. His backing track ploughed on as my inner voice became crushed. The experienced and rehearsed radio presenter’s soothing tone was winning. I decided to return to compartmentalising – either read or listen.

One job of the psychoanalyst is to listen. The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz is about how the process of psychoanalysis can help patients to come to terms with mental health problems. Through his condensed reasoning of over 50,000 hours of consultation, Grosz successfully explores the concious and unconscious human psyche.

These short stories are about real people with real problems: a man diagnosed with HIV; a child suffering from violent outbursts; a woman in denial about her husband’s adultery. Each case is treated with delicacy and written about with concise elegance. Grosz expertly helps his patients to discover what truly motivates them to act in often bewildering ways. This series of true tales has a personal touch which is both sincere and stylistically succinct.

Recommended reading.