Today’s post, an essay by philosopher Alain de Botton, is from LARB Channel Marginalia. It was published last week – if you missed it, we’ve reproduced it here in full. The above photo is a screenshot of one of The School of Life’s new YouTube videos. The video is included in the below post.
By Alain de Botton
Traditionally, philosophy has been nervous around the idea of communication. Reaching out has not been high on the agenda. Academic philosophers have frequently erected barriers to wider participation: abstruse vocabulary and hypercomplex arguments have seemed to guarantee intelligence — all of which is a great pity.
Philosophy is simply the pursuit of wisdom. And though it’s a rather abstract term, the concept of “wisdom” isn’t mysterious. Being wise means attempting to live and die well, leading as good a life as possible within the troubled conditions of existence. The goal of wisdom is fulfilment. So a philosopher or “person devoted to wisdom” is someone who strives for systematic expertise at working out how one may best find individual and collective fulfillment. Continue reading
Today’s post is from LARB Channel Boom.
By D.J. Waldie
A View from Bixby Hill. Sometimes I go up on a hill that overlooks the concrete box of the San Gabriel River where the river flows into Alamitos Bay in Long Beach. From there, you see nature. Wetlands drained for oil production lie below, as do tracts of houses and the congested asphalt ribbon of the Pacific Coast Highway. Most of what I see had been owned by the Bixby family of Long Beach. The Bixbys farmed, grazed sheep and cattle, and raised draft horses from 1878 until the suburban boom of the 1950s. In the 1920s, the Bixbys began pumping oil from their wetlands and hired renowned landscape architects—Florence Yoch and the Olmsted brothers, as well as Paul J. Howard, William Hertrich, and Allen Chickering among them—to lay out four acres of sophisticated gardens surrounding the Bixby homestead. Continue reading
Today’s post is from LARB Channel Avidly.
By Pete Coviello
I am not a sports fan.
It’s true, I watch a little, and have some bits of gear – my Italia jersey that I wear when the World Cup comes around, my Yankee hat – and in a vague way I keep up. But having a stake in the fluctuating fortunes of the New York Yankees has never felt to me like, say, a devotional practice, in the way that listening to bands and reading books and fighting about them so plainly has been. I’ve liked the Yankees fine. But the truth is I have not loved Mariano Rivera with anything like the life-traversing ardor with which I’ve loved Emily Dickinson, or Carson McCullers, or Prince, or Mac and Laura from Superchunk.
SO imagine my surprise as, in these last weeks, I found myself planted night after idle night on my couch here in Chicago, watching the last season of one of those Yankees unfold, one mediocre outing into the next. When people I know express surprise that I watch baseball at all – I evidently do not give off the convincing vibe of someone who gives a lot of fucks about baseball – I have this stock line prepared for them: Some people meditate; some people do yoga; I watch baseball. And it’s true. It chills me out. Continue reading
Photo: Portrait of Ishi by E.H. Kemp, July 1912. Courtesy of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology and the Regents of the University of California.
Today’s post is from LARB Channel Boom.
By William Bauer
Ishi must be tired. For 160 years, people have hunted him and other California Indians. In the mid-nineteenth century, settlers, miners, and ranchers tracked Ishi and his family in revenge for the killing of livestock. In the early twentieth century, anthropologists trailed after Ishi, searching for North America’s “last wild Indian.” In 2000, Maidu and Pit River tribal members tracked down his brain, which Dr. Saxton Pope had removed at Ishi’s autopsy and Professor Alfred Kroeber had sent to the Smithsonian. In 2012, photographers Byron Wolfe and Troy Jollimore continued the quest to capture Ishi, visiting Deer Creek in search of his wilderness. Settlers, anthropologists, and indigenous people have hounded Ishi for different purposes. Understanding why people hunt Ishi tells us much about how Californians envision Indians and their past, present, and future. Continue reading
Today’s post was originally published on LARB Channel Boom, which describes it as “exploring California landscapes with the San Francisco Estuary Institute.”
By Erin Beller, Ruth Askevold, and Robin Grossinger
Heading home from a successful duck hunting trip near the Sacramento River one rainy winter evening around 1850, William Wright got hopelessly lost in a muddy maze of ice-covered tules. Navigating in the pitch dark only by the direction of the wind and sleet, he trudged through a series of cold, waist-deep lakes, falling into beaver holes full of icy water. Disoriented, soaked, cold, and hungry—and lugging dozens of duck and goose carcasses—he and his companion gave up for the evening. They set up camp, making a dinner of raw goose meat and a bed of tules and goose wings—”the worst camp I ever made in my life,” Wright wrote.
At the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s Center for Resilient Landscapes, we use accounts like Wright’s to discover California as it was before the rapid and often profound transformations of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Our ecological detective work synthesizes clues found in naturalists’ field notebooks and surveyors’ sketches; diary entries by Spanish explorers, Forty-Niners, and farmers’ wives; and photographs of camping trips and family picnics, to name a few of the colorful and idiosyncratic sources left behind by previous generations of writers and artists, scientists and surveyors, residents, and travelers. These early observations allow us to reconstruct past ecological patterns and create detailed maps of long-gone landscapes across the state. They let us visualize change through time, providing a spatially explicit view of how prior generations of Californians shaped their landscapes into the ones we have inherited and continue to reshape today. Continue reading
Today’s post was originally published on LARB Channel Avidly.
By Lisa Beskin
A month or so after my mother’s death in 2001, I found myself in an awkward situation involving David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. I had just seen it in the theater, loved it, and desperately wanted to talk about it with a certain friend. But I hadn’t yet told him my terrible news, and because my mother had committed suicide, it couldn’t be told quickly or summarily. Every time I told someone what had happened, I flinched for both of us. It just wouldn’t do to call him up and chip, “There’s been a tragedy, but guess what? I went to the movies and saw Mulholland Dr.!” This little dilemma was the love-child of survivor guilt and Miss Manners. Eventually I settled on emailing my friend about my mom and telephoning a couple of days later. I was learning that this new, strange life had room for grief and pleasure both—and ways to live with that excruciating truth. Continue reading
Today’s post is from LARB Channel Boom.
Photo: Tree in Field, 2006, from A New Pastoral: Views of the San Joaquin Valley. Photograph by Barron Bixler.
By Glen M. MacDonald
John Muir, the grand old man of the Sierra Nevada, died 100 years ago in a Los Angeles hospital bed with only an unfinished book manuscript for company.¹ He was seventy-six years old. In the final year of his life he had been stung by betrayal, losing the fight of his life: his beloved Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite would soon be dammed to serve the water and power demands of a booming San Francisco.² Yet, here he was, still proselytizing—from his deathbed—on the wonders of nature.
A century later, is anyone still listening? Continue reading
Today’s post was originally published earlier this week by LARB Channel Avidly.
By James McWilliams
The psychoanalyst Adam Phillips once observed that people don’t strive to be what they already are. It’s an elegantly obvious point, but it’s also terrifying in its implications. After all, for the “aspiring self,” the ambition to be something else—someone else—reveals that life is marked by a yawning void. That is: life hurts. I suspect nobody intuitively grasps this reality better than an adolescent. It makes you wonder: how do these tender creatures ever survive? Continue reading
Today’s post was originally published by LARB Channel Marginalia.
By Andrew B. Irvine
Almost all the arts of life are enhanced when performed with unselfconscious spontaneity — think shooting hoops, playing a complicated musical passage, dining with friends. The moment we try not to try is often the moment performance collapses in a counterproductive muddle. This “paradox of wu-wei,” as Edward Slingerland calls it, can be explained as the goal of trying not to try. This ambitious book reprises much of the author’s previous work on classical Chinese philosophical cultivation of wu-wei (see his 2003 book, Effortless action) and broadens the scope of his previous engagement with cognitive science, particularly notions of embodied mind. Slingerland seeks to address a popular audience that is both fascinated and frustrated by the paradox of wu-wei, and thus far the book has received good press here, here, and here. Continue reading
Today’s post was originally published last week by LARB Channel Avidly.
By M.J. Dinius
Last night on Facebook, my friend explicitly linked the two stories dominating my social media feed: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the events in Ferguson, Missouri. My friend asked, “How many buckets of ice would I have to pour over my head to get people to care about black lives?” Likely meant to be more provocative than substantive—especially when compared to the real and deep connections confirmed between Ferguson and the Middle East — the question might be seen as an opportunistic, if well-meant, politicization of a charity fundraiser. Or more confrontationally, it might be challenged for implicitly setting up a false choice between caring about African Americans and people suffering from a terminal, incurable disease.
For me, the post struck a still-quick nerve, compelling me to take seriously the question of what moves people to care about others these days, to question what it means to “care.” And it made me think again about the relationship of two concepts that are strange traveling partners: care, and cure. Continue reading