Thursday, 31 July 2008

Derek Raymond/Robin Cook

I knew him quite well, and wrote his obituary for The Times years before I wrote any other obituaries anywhere else. Today I read A State of Denmark for the first time in nearly 20 years. It scared the living daylights out of me, not just because it is a brilliant examination of the effect of dictatorship on the individual, but because so many little bits of it (CCTV cameras, ID cards, the joining up of different government departments to provide a full picture of you, the weaselly collaboration of different European states, ignoring the laws and constitutions of each) seem so horrifyingly plausible. It is a brilliant book.

Serpent's Tail publish it: ISBN 978-1-85242-947-8


I have been thinking about Bourbaki and how right and wrong he was. His wrongness cannot, of course, have anything to do with the fact that he didn't exist. Some people claim the same for Homer, or the authors of the Bible and Koran.

Let us then praise Nicolas Bourbaki, so much more real than other mathematicans (except perhaps Paul Erdos). How right he was to set out to construct axiomatically everything which we could say that we knew. An admirable concept.

Why then, was it indirectly corrupted into structuralism and the doctrine that the truth was relative?

It is one thing to say that the truth is unknowable; that our grasp of it is always relative (Which is no more than quantum dynamics has shown). But the 20th Century Continental philosophers who came to believe that the truth itself was relative always somehow believed that their grasp of it was absolute. In every instance, these thoughts landed people in the camps.

The search for structure is a fine thing. But structure is not – as Bourbaki might have realized – realized by confining it to set theory. It is probably not even category theory, or string theory, or M theory. These are signposts on the way. They are what we have in order to approximate a description of what is real.

To complain that one cannot identify the physical change in the communion wafer is to make a category mistake, just as it would be to say that a novel or a symphony or a cricket match makes a factual error

Friday, 18 July 2008

Jo Stafford

I thought she was rather good news, with the Tommy Dorsey band. Here

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Neal Stephenson

I have started reading Anathem. It is as gigantic as everything else he's written during the past few years. But we have till September before it needs to be written about. Just as well, really.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Fare dodging

As I was getting on the train this evening, I was singled out to have my ticket inspected. Perhaps I look particularly shifty. But then I realized that I was holding my copy of the July issue of Philosophy, journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy (full of good stuff, by the way). CEM Joad has a lot to answer for. Give a dog a bad name...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


You may get no credit for trying; that doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile.

God is in the details: or: If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well.

You ought to say: "It's only a job, the rest of life is worth much more". You're right to do so. But it depends on your job. How much of what you are is tied up in what you do? You ought not, of course, to be doing a job you don't see the point of.

Never confuse what you do with the instructions of the people you work for. Hang in there and fight.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Hold the Front Page

I'm thinking of giving up Google alerts on deaths.

I've just been buzzed with the news that LBJ's daughter's mother-in-law has died. Imagine how pleased I was to get out of bed to check that.

PKD News

Long piece by Stephen Burt in this week's London Review of Books. I will return to this, perhaps.