Friday, July 30, 2010

Philosopher's Toolkit...

I am now half way through Julian Baggini and Peter S. Fosl's The Philosopher's Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods. I found it in a bookstore last week -the beauty of browsing- and I am finding it very useful in putting me in a critical state of mind when approaching texts for the PhD. It is basically a reference guide / encyclopedia of philosophy designed not so much to tell you about individual philosophers and their ideas, but rather to act as a guide to understanding philosophical arguments, methodologies and techniques. It touches on many of the topics that I covered as an undergraduate majoring in Philosophy, but it also reveals some of the more basic, yet unexamined, aspects (or tools) for argument, critiques and conceptual distinctions.

My favourite 'tool' so far is the ceteris paribus (all other things being equal) principle, a way to limit the scope of an argument or explicitly avoid considerations of factors not relevant to the argument/ topic. The thought experiment offered to illustrate this concept is brilliant:

Your brain is to be transplanted into another body, taking all your thoughts, memories, oersonality and so on. We'll call teh resulting person 'Yourbrain'. Meanwhile your body will receive the brain of another, and we'll call that person 'Yourbody'. Before this operations takes place, you are asked to sign over all your bank accounts, property deeds and so on to Yourbody and Yourbrain. Assuming that you are acting out of self-interest, which person would you choose? (81)

Its a great book for revision and would be useful for anyone who is already interested in philosophy, logic or the structure of arguments; while it is not a riveting read, it is clearly written, contains solid examples and references for further reading.

Today I am off to Uni to see a keynote address by guest lecturer Rita Felski, a Jr. Professor of English at the University of Virginia who is presenting on the "hermeneutics of suspicion", next week I am attending a symposium run by Professor Felski called "Everyday Aesthetics". I start my actual workshops/seminars for my PhD after next week!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Quote of the day...

“Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” - Nietzsche.

In 1882 Nietzsche purchased a typewriter, a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, and a friend noticed a change in his writing style with the arrival of his new machine. His friend found his work tighter than even and suggested,

“Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.
“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”

According to the Malling-Hansen Society, Nietzsche never had much luck with his latest model, portable and with a colour ribbon Malling-Hansen Writing Ball due to a number or reasons (poor eyesight, damaged in travel, lack of skill etc.), but he did write a poem for it:





(Friedrich Nietzsche, on February 16th 1882)

Nietzsche information from here, Malling-Hansen Society here.

I am struggling to take notes on my computer and to read texts online, so I find the Nietzsche quote fascinating, as well as the story that goes with it. I love having journal articles in front of me with a pen and a highlighter and a notebook to fill with notes, ideas, questions etc.

I wonder how right Nietzsche was, how much does our technology/writing materials influence what and how we write? How long will it take me to retrain myself to be able to do these things on a laptop instead of in a Moleskine?

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Cards...

Today I got my Student ID card from UQ. Iwas sent behind the counter and told to stand on the footprints marked on the ground, I stood on the footprints and looked up and he snapped it, consequently I look like a very unhappy Fiona!

I also got a library card today so I can borrow from Brisbane libraries; the George Street library in the rubik's cube building (I once solved a rubik's cube - it was hard!) across from the Casino is fantastic. I felt like I was in a Borders bookstore, except you can take the books home for free!

I love Brisbane.

Pencil into your diary...

The American Library Associations Banned Books Week this year is from the 25th of September to the 2nd of October. A week of celebrations by those who read banned books and support freedom of choice. Check out their website for more information.

How are you going to celebrate Banned Books Week? Maybe pick up and read a banned book or make a blog post or get a badge or bracelet (see above)?

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Have just finished reading The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene and felt incredibly ignorant that I knew so little about the suppression of the Catholic church in Mexico in the 1930s. It is a grim little book, but surprisingly compelling even for a non-theist. I found this great quote about The Power and the Glory on the Banned Books blog:

"Literature of this kind does harm to the cause of the true religion" - Vatican consultant (1953).

Have also just finished Emma by Jane Austen and despite the back blurb telling me it was her most polished novel and everyones general favorite, I have to admit that I preferred both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice to it. Having said that, it was an easy and enjoyable read, but I find it hard to like novels where I don't like the main character and it took me sometime to warm in anyway to Emma.

I have put the novels aside for today to concentrate on some reading for the PhD, but plan to continue reading unrelated materials on the train to and from uni - that way I can sneak in some novels and maybe get through a few more on the list (see right hand column)!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Waiting City...

This week we went to the Dendy cinema at Portside (Brisbane) and saw The Waiting City.

The film absolutely surpassed all my expectations. The two main characters, Fiona and Ben, played by Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton travel to Calcutta to collect the child that they have adopted, along the way they make discoveries about themselves and their relationship.

Mitchell is fantastic as the accomplished lawyer Fiona, who finds it hard to put her work aside and is contrasted well Edgerton as Ben, a frustrated musician who entirely lacks Fiona's drive, but seems to make up for it with his easy going nature, charisma and general lust for life.

Some reviews have said that as a couple they seemed mis-matched, but the on screen chemistry is definitely there. As characters they are never fully 'unpacked', explored or resolved, but these gaps and the tension it creates gives reality to their characters. They have faults and flaws, at times hinted at and other times directly acknowledged, and it is these imperfections that I believe we are not used to seeing in films that gives their characters so much weight on screen.

You cannot help but be drawn into the human drama that is unfolding. We accept that they are not just stock characters, and therefore we don't get to know everything about each character, a lot is left unsaid and it not easily assumed. They are complex people that are presented before us as at a trying time in their lives. They have 'real' fights and react in 'real' ways to each other over with deep emotion - this is not a superficial film by any means.

It is for me an emotional, evocative, heart breaking and uplifting film that was refreshing in its honest portray of how imperfect we as are human beings are, but also it is about the desire for and value of family, love, commitment and honesty. This is one of the best films I have seen for sometime.
I also watched Creation this week (the film on Charles Darwin) and despite my love of bio-pics and my general fear of Australian films - if you have to pick between one or the other - make it The Waiting City, I don't think you will be disapointed.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's Official...

image (Arial shot of the great court at UQ)

I am a University student again!

I went and completed my induction and enrollment officially this morning with the Post Graduate officer for the English, Media Studies and Art History (EMSAH) Facualty, now I just have to wait for my username and login and also get a student ID card. But I am now a professional uni student. Some dreams do come true.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

French Festival @ Southbank

This morning I caught a train to Brisbane and walked across the bridge to Southbank to the French Festival and took the photograph above from the bridge where you could see all of the stalls set up beside the overgrown ferris wheel. I enjoyed the markets, music and food and met up with my sister, her husband and baby.

While in the toilets at Southbank I snapped this funny photograph of the sign on the back of the toilet door.

What was funnier, was when I told my sister that I had taken a photograph of the sign, she said that she did too. Ahhh... toilet humor... Anyway, we went to West End and had lunch at Three Monkeys when the crowd of the festival got too much for us and explored the bookshops. I picked up a $5 copy of Jane Austen's Emma. It was a great day out in the city and the sunshine.

Friday, July 16, 2010

HOWL - Official Movie Trailer

I did my thesis for my Master of Arts (English Studies) on Ginsberg. I traveled to America, went to San Fransisco and visited the Beat Museum, City Lights, Ginsberg's apartment, various cafes and bars where Ginsberg and his friends used to meet up etc. etc.
I also went to Palo Alto and went to Stanford and read through Ginsberg's archives.
I flew to New York and visited the archives at the New York Public Library, I met Peter Hale from The Allen Ginsberg Project in Ginsberg's last apartment where he died.
It was a fantastic journey, as was writing the thesis. I am so excited that this film is being released soon (I don't know when it will be in Australia). For more information on Ginsberg check out the official website.

In other Beat related news, On the Road the movie is supposed to be underway soon, according to The Internet Movie Database it is in pre-production. They have been trying to make it into a film for decades. If you are interested in anything Beat, check out The Beat Museum online.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I have been checking out two very inspiring blogs, one is called Blogging the Canon by a self professed "middle-aged scientist/musician" who made a list of 105 books that he should read and is making his way through them. The other is Kristin's Book Blog, a blog about "life and literature" that also lists the "Modern Library Top 100 of the 20th Century", Kristin impressively only has 13 books to go!

It inspired me to look up top 100 book lists (there are so many!) and I found the Guardian's top 100. I have copied the list onto the blog and highlighted in orange the books I have read - no where near as impressive as Kristin's list - I have only read 25.

So now I can't decide if I should make a reading list like the "scientist/musician" at Blogging the Canon, or take on a 100 book challenge like Kristin. I must remember also that I am about to embark on a new thesis (60,000 to 100,000 words). So maybe just a small list?

I also read in a news article that most people have only read approximately six books on most top 100 book lists - how did you go?

The Taxman

One, two, three, four...
One, two, (one, two, three, four!)

Let me tell you how it will be;
There's one for you, nineteen for me.
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

- lyrics by the Beatles

Spent the morning organising my receipts.
Another fun holiday day spent productively!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I'm loving...

My new blue Dell Inspiron laptop!

It arrived today and I have been using my new Belkin Easy Transfer Cable for Windows 7 to transfer everything from my old Dell to my new Dell.

I now have Microsoft Office OneNote 2007, a program designed to create your own notebook style databases for research notes etc. Now I can transfer all of my typed notes into one program to organise them - how fantastically nerdy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bill Bryson on Everything

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to win Bill Bryson's back catalogue, he was touring a new book and appeared on the ABC's First Tuesday Book club program. Their was a travel writing competition and I won it! Several weeks later a giant box appeared containing a pile of signed paperbacks by Bryson. I have been making my way through them ever since. Prior to this lucky event I had only ever read about his travel adventures to Australia; currently I am reading his A Short History of Nearly Everything, an insightful science book that does what the title says it will do. It also has Bryson's famous wit. Reading about these extraordinary men and women of the sciences also makes one feel rather insignificant, then again, one should not pit onesself against Noble prize winners. Suffice to say, other than feeling academically insignificant, I have enjoyed the book more than I expected (not having a science background at all) and really enjoyed finding out things I else wise wouldn't have.

The Australian newspaper had an interview with him a few weeks ago that you can read online here. I love the last two paragraphs that illustrate well his kind of wit; writing about Bryson the journalist says:

He is now planning to take the rest of 2010 off "to read" and may even finally apply for British citizenship. Although Bryson is married to a Brit and has four grown-up British children, "I'm still afraid to take the test because I don't want to flunk it", he says. "I had an American friend who recently did it and said it was really tough. Not questions like 'What's Marmite?' or 'Morecambe and blank', but technical things like: 'To the nearest five, how many MPs are there?' A British citizen would fail."

He would much prefer an interview, "somebody saying, you speak English, you're not on welfare, you're not a pedophile, you're OK". What sort of exam questions would he like? "Well," he says, "something like, 'Mr Bryson, how can we make you more comfortable?' "

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tolstoy in 112 mins,

Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone.
- Leo Tolstoy

I have just watched The Last Station (2009) a film more about the last days of Tolstoy's life, his wife and the Tolstoyan movement then his writing. But a moving piece of cinema that addresses universal themes about love, commitment, betrayal and death as well as some of life's various dichotomies and ironies.

Certainly worth watching, but the somber ending left me a little lost and wishing I hadn't watched it alone.
What do I do now? I thought, sitting on the couch contemplating Tolstoy's philosophy.
Can I just make a coffee and go on with my own life?
What would Tolstoy have done?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Things I am liking...

The "Grad school: It seemed better than getting a real job" t-shirt from PhD Comics.

And the fantastic Think Geek t-shirt from here. The concept of a non-medical doctor is still a new one for many people I have encountered since being offered a Doctor of Philosophy position.
For an etymology lesson I defer to Mark at who explains:

The earliest use of "doctor" in WRITTEN English was in 1303, but the term applied to "doctors of the Church," meaning "learned men in the scriptures."

It was not until 1377 that it was used in the sense of "medical doctor," or one who treats illnesses or diseases.

[a. OF. doctor (-ur, -our, -eur), ad. L. doctor, -rem teacher, agent-n. from docre to teach.]

The entry from the Oxford English Dictionary above traces the word's origin -- from the Old French "doctor" from the Latin "doctor," meaning "teacher." And that noun came from the verb "docre" which meant "to teach."

Oh, so what you are saying Mark is that doctor's were learned folks like teachers and the term was taken up for medical doctors because they are learned folks also - not because it means to operate or prescribe antibiotics. Hmmmm... now I just need to get one (a doctorate I mean, not a doctor)!

Every little comma

Image from here.

I have recently received in the mail the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (I can hear the excited "ohhhhs" and "ahhhs" as you just read that sentence).

The thing is, this new edition comes with a activation code that allows you access to an accompanying web site where the whole book is available online, which means searching for where to put that comma or question mark (before or after the bracket?), or what to do with multiple texts by the same author becomes much easier. I wish I had this for my Masters thesis!

It is still written for a first year undergraduate audience, with advice for backing up your drafts on "disk" and clunky information about the "World Wide Web"; but the guide to citing sources in text and in the works cited list is well put together -- plus it is great to have the paper copy to write all over and the online version to search easily.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A New Page

"For the most banal even to become an adventure you must (and this is enough) begin to recount it." Antoine Roquentin in Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea.

I am beginning a new adventure and creating a place to record it.
This month I start my PhD in literature. Last year I finished my Master of Arts (English Studies) and I have won a scholarship to undertake a Doctorate of Philosophy.

I have taken leave from teaching, moved house and started compiling notes.
My trepidation is matched only by my excitement.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ron Mueck

(Image from here)

Sunday we went back to the Ron Mueck exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) and despite some poor reviews, I enjoyed it again. If you haven't seen I guess it might be disappointing due to its brevity, but not its quality.
Mueck's sculptures achingly capture the human condition;
we can see these fragile giants and the frail little old ladies, the miniature body of Mueck’s own father, or the over sized head of the artist himself, as speaking about what it means to be human. They represent the fragility of life itself, the miracle of birth and the painful experience of losing a parent or loved one. Yet there is a sense of humour with this humanity, a tongue placed firmly in a cheek as one of the sculptures sits arms crossed alone in a boat, or floating in an inflatable ring on a surface of blue. They capture human emotions and moments of contemplation as well as the beauty and complexity of the human form that has been so skilfully and masterfully created by Mueck.