Taking examples from sources as diverse as Plato and Steven Spielberg, author Julian Baggini presents abstract philosophical issues in concrete terms, suggesting possible solutions while encouraging readers to draw their own conclusions: Lively, clever, and thought-provoking, The. Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher. Julian Baggini is the editor of The Philosopher’s Magazine. Both entertaining and startling, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten offers one hundred philosophical puzzles that stimulate thought on a host of moral, social, and personal. The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten: And 99 Other Thought Experiments, EPUB a UK issued credit card and all our eBooks (ePub and PDF) are DRM protected.
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The NOOK Book (eBook) of the The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher by Julian Baggini at Barnes & Noble. Download and Read Free Online THE PIG THAT WANTS TO BE EATEN AND 99 online books, books online, book reviews epub, read books online, books to. Editorial Reviews. From Publishers Weekly. For Stelios, the teletransporter is the only way to The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher - site edition by Julian Baggini. Download it once and read it on.
Perfect for gifting to lovers of philosophy or mining intelligent ice-breaker topics for your next party, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten offers one hundred philosophical puzzles that stimulate thought on a host of moral, social, and personal dilemmas. Taking examples from sources as diverse as Plato and Steven Spielberg, author Julian Baggini presents abstract philosophica Perfect for gifting to lovers of philosophy or mining intelligent ice-breaker topics for your next party, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten offers one hundred philosophical puzzles that stimulate thought on a host of moral, social, and personal dilemmas.
Taking examples from sources as diverse as Plato and Steven Spielberg, author Julian Baggini presents abstract philosophical issues in concrete terms, suggesting possible solutions while encouraging readers to draw their own conclusions: Lively, clever, and thought-provoking, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten is a portable feast for the mind that is sure to satisfy any intellectual appetite.
Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published July 1st by Plume Books first published July 5th More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details.
More filters. Sort order. Jan 19, Thomas rated it really liked it Shelves: Here's a question for vegetarians: What if that pig were also genetically modified to want to be eaten - if being eaten was indeed its life's ambition?
How about a genetically modified chicken that had lost its sense of self, environment, pain, pleasure etc.? It'd be like plucking a potato from the ground. Another one, for everyone: Beforehand she asked over and over again to be taken off the machine, but to your chagrin, an ethics committee forbids you from doing so.
One day a random passerby - a janitor, perhaps - accidentally knocks out the plug and disconnects the patient from the machine.
Julian Baggini The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten Pdf
You let it go and the patient fades away: Are you justified? In each of its chapters, he spends one page detailing a thought experiment and then two pages afterward discussing its philosophical implications. He writes with conciseness and clarity, including all of the necessary information without falling into pretension. Each chapter raises questions and dilemmas with no easy answers. The topics range from the necessity of torture, to supererogatory behavior, to the authenticity of godless morality, and much more.
The best part about this book is that Baggini does not force any of his own beliefs, whatever they may be, into his writing. He leaves the thought experiments open-ended so that they are ripe for analysis, and even when the subjects touch on hefty issues like abortion and atheism, he never takes a definitive stance or pulls you a certain way.
You have to think for yourself.
Diabetic Domination by Julius Wellington [pdf, epub | 2,96 Mb] ISBN: B00S1PRYM8
This book makes me wish that I could major in philosophy and never have a care in the world about employment or the economy. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to a full-on brain workout; if thinking about deep issues leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you should skip this one actually, don't do that, challenge yourself and you won't regret it! But I'll end this review by saying this: Actually, I guess I was like that for a lot of this book. Read it. View all 7 comments. Dec 31, David rated it really liked it Shelves: I thought this deserved 3.
Other reviewers have faulted it for lacking philosophical depth, but really - what could they have been expecting? The author makes no pretences, and the format of the book couldn't be clearer. So, yeah, that format doesn't afford much scope for teasing out an issue in great depth. But it works better than you might think. Different vignettes can be used to approach a given theme from different angles and Baggini revisits his more interesting themes several times throughout the book each chapter cross-references others that are loosely related.
I don't necessarily fault an author for having a gimmick - sometimes it's an unhelpful distraction, but sometimes it can provide a kind of structure that turns out to be entirely beneficial. This book was an illustration of how a constraint can be useful - the 3-page limit helped keep things focused.
How well the book turns out is, of course, critically dependent on two factors: How smart and interesting are the scenarios chosen for inclusion? How good is the author at exposition? Baggini acquits himself well on both counts. Though he doesn't quite manage to pull off the folksy humor to which he aspires, his style is brisk, without condescension and free of annoying tics. More importantly, he is effective at hitting a decent balance in tone between the academic and the popular.
The selection of thought experiments was better than I had anticipated. Obviously, they're not all going to be winners - for instance, I personally no longer find anything even remotely interesting in Zeno's paradox, Buridan's ass, other people's famous inability to grasp the fact that coins and roulette wheels don't have a memory, the notion that living forever would suck all the joy out of life, or the inability to know how another person perceives color. But I do have a definite weakness for questions pertaining to ethical and moral choice, so those vignettes kept me entertained for hours.
In general, the author covers the major bases - consciousness, perception, reality, pain, empathy, morality and ethics. For me, the most interesting scenarios were those which explored the nuances of moral responsibility in various hypothetical but very concrete settings.
What sealed the fourth star were the chapters that nudged me out of my comfort zone. For example, the scenarios which addressed our stewardship of the environment and the ethical treatment of animals captured and held my attention. The book's format favors concrete, crisply formulated, scenarios - the kind that you find yourself thinking about days later.
Many don't have an obvious 'right' answer, in these cases Biaggini is smart enough not to try to provide one - he just wants to get you thinking about this stuff. At his most effective, he's almost demonically successful - for the last two days I've been trying unsuccessfully to come up with a convincing argument to dispel the notion that I'm suspended in a pod of amniotic fluid with a computer feeding me all the necessary stimuli needed to make me think my virtual reality is 'actual' reality.
There are limits, however. The crockpot and the Foreman grill have no role in their future. Sadly, I understand all too well that this is the kind of sentimental foolishness to which we humans are susceptible. I have no illusions about the kitties' behavior should I drop dead and leave them unfended for. The transition from living food provider to dead food source would, I imagine, be rapid. But I digress. The bottom line is that I enjoyed this book quite a bit more than I had expected to -- the author's particular gimmick actually worked out pretty well.
View all 3 comments. Mar 03, Berrett rated it it was ok. This book is like being forced to hang out with a high school philosophy teacher who tries to get the cool kids to like him by demonstrating how "crazy" philosophy can be. Well, maybe it wasn't that bad. But it wasn't that good either. View 1 comment.
Jan 17, Sumit Singla rated it it was ok Shelves: This one barely made it to my philosophy list. I confess, I've been guilty of judging the book by its cover. I picked it up because I couldn't resist the lure of bacon that's practically begging to be eaten. For a meat-lover turned vegetarian due to issues of animal cruelty, a pig that wants to be eaten would be a blessing, right?
Not really, as it turns out. For, I found much of this book unpalatable and the rest indigestible. Ok, enough with the bad puns and onwards to the review.
I thin This one barely made it to my philosophy list. I think this book is enough to tickle your brain cells a bit, but surely not enough to work them into an energetic workout. Many of the so-called thought experiments are repetitive in nature and just not elaborate enough. If you are the kind of armchair philosopher who wants simplistic, catchy things to think about, maybe you should read this. But, if you enjoy deep philosophy or have had any exposure to it, I'd suggest saving your money and your time.
After all, there are more important things out there than to think about pigs that want to be eaten. Hence, this book could be used as a bit of a primer to let's say, get a high schooler interested in philosophy.
Personally, I prefer deeper conundrums. May 26, Arimo rated it really liked it Shelves: You have to admit it: Fortunately, the intriguing and entertaining presentation continue in the content, too.
Big and small philosophical questions are presented in light, easily digestible form. While the book could be examined every now and then and read only occasionally, I ended up finishing it very quickly. Mar 15, Jason rated it it was ok Recommends it for: Someone standing in a bookstore with five minutes to kill.
Amusing at times, but completely pointless at other times. Baggini's thought experiments seemed to repeat. He goes too far into "what if" land. Throughout the book he takes ideas from philosophers like Descartes and Plato and writers like Douglas Adams hence the title and Ray Bradbury and changes the philosopher's original scenario or vignette into his own version. I found this approach useless; I would have rather had the original at my fingertips.
Budding philosophers. This book was a Christmas gift from an old friend who clearly knows me well. Despite having studied philosophy reasonably intensively in the past, this little book of thought experiments was both entertaining and engaging.
One of the things that I love about philosophy is that it can be read and understood at many different levels and this book is no exception. Baggini has taken famous philosophical conundrums, re-written them in his own words and then added a brief discussion of the topic This book was a Christmas gift from an old friend who clearly knows me well.
Baggini has taken famous philosophical conundrums, re-written them in his own words and then added a brief discussion of the topic at hand. As a child she had been thought of as miniature autocrat whom the parents had nicknamed Miss Pompadosso after the heroine of a children's book.
Whereas I had known Chloe to be levelheaded about money and her career, the father remarked that his daughter 'did not understand the first thing about how things work in the real world', while the mother joked about her 'bullying all her boyfriends into submission'.
I was forced to add to my understanding of Chloe a whole section that had unfolded prior to my arrival, my vision of her colliding with that imposed by the initial family narrative. In the afternoon, Chloe showed me around the house.
She took me into the room at the top of the stairs into which she'd been afraid to go as a child, because her uncle had once told her a ghost lived inside the piano.
We looked into her old bedroom that her mother now used as a studio, and she pointed out a hatch that she had used to get into the attic in order to escape with her elephant Guppy whenever she'd been miserable. We took a walk in the garden, past a still-bruised tree at the bottom of a slope into which the family car had ploughed when she had once dared her brother to release the handbrake.
She showed me the neighbours' house, whose blackberry bushes she had picked clean in the summers, and whose former owner's son she had kissed on the way back from school. He had since died, added Chloe with curious indifference, 'in an incident with a corn-thresher'.
Later in the afternoon, I took a walk in the garden with her father, a donnish man to whom thirty years of marriage had imparted some distinctive views on the subject. I'm no expert on love, but I'll tell you something. In the end, I've found that it doesn't really matter who you marry. If you like them at the beginning, you probably won't like them at the end. And if you start off hating them, there's always the chance you'll end up thinking they're all right.
On the train back to London that evening, I felt exhausted, weary at all the differences between Chloe's early world and mine. While the stories and settings of her past had enchanted me, they had also proved terrifying and bizarre, all these years and habits before I had known her, but that were as much a part of who she was as the shape of her nose or the colour of her eyes.
I felt a primitive nostalgia for familiar surroundings, recognizing the disruption that every relationship entails — a whole new person to learn about, to suggest myself to, to acclimatize myself to. It was perhaps a moment of fear at the thought of all the differences I would find in Chloe, all the times she would be one thing, and I another, when our world views would be incapable of alignment.
Staring out of the window at the Wiltshire countryside, I had a lost child's longing for someone I could already wholly understand, the eccentricities of whose house, parents, and history I had already tamed. If I can return for a moment to Chloe's shoes, it might be worth mentioning that their inauguration did not end with my negative yet privately formulated analysis of their virtues.
I confess that it ended in the second greatest argument of our relationship, in tears, insults, shouting, and the right shoe crashing through a pane of glass onto the pavement of Denbigh Street. The sheer melodramatic intensity of the event aside, the matter sustains philosophical interest because it symbolizes a choice as radical in the personal sphere as in the political: The choice has often been missed in an optimistic equation of the two terms, with the former considered a handmaiden of the latter.
But if the terms have been linked, it is always in an implausible marriage, for it seems impossible to talk of love and letting live, and if we are left to live, we are not usually loved. We may well ask why the viciousness witnessed between lovers would not be tolerated anywhere outside conditions of open enmity. Then, to build bridges between shoes and nations, we may ask why countries that have no language of community or citizenship usually leave their members isolated but unmolested and yet why countries that talk most of love, kinship, and brotherhood routinely end up slaughtering great swathes of their populations.
Or you might suddenly decide you hated them. I do hate them. Someone has to let you know the truth. And Leslie would definitely like them. And I can't imagine Abigail having a problem with them either. So what's wrong with you? Not in the proper way. Not in the way that means you have to break bad news to someone even if it pains you terribly.
The reader can be spared the full melodrama, it suffices to say that moments later, the tempest that had been brewing reached a climax, Chloe took off one of the offensive shoes, supposedly so as to let me look at it, but more realistically, to murder me with it, I chose to duck the incoming projectile, it crashed through the window behind me and fell down to the street, where it impaled itself in the rubbish area in the remains of a neighbour's chicken madras.
Our argument was peppered with the paradoxes of love and liberalism. What did it really matter what Chloe's shoes were like?
There were so many other wonderful sides to her, was it not spoiling the game to arrest my gaze on this detail? Why could I not have politely lied to her as I might have done to a friend? My only excuse lay in the claim that I loved her, that she was my ideal — save for the shoes — and that I therefore had to point out this blemish, something I would never have done with a friend whose departures from my ideal would have been too numerous to begin with, a friendship in which the concept of an ideal would never even have entered into my thinking.
Because I loved her, I told her — therein lay my sole defence. But the arguments that hound lovers are a reminder that Christian love is not prone to survive a move into the bedroom. Its message seems more suited to the universal than the particular, to the love of all men for all women, to the love of two neighbours who will not hear each other snoring.
Though it was not always a matter for glaziers, illiberalism was never one sided. There were a thousand things about me that drove Chloe to distraction: Why was I so bored by the theatre? Why did I insist on wearing a coat that looked a century old? Why did I always knock the duvet off the bed in my sleep? Why did I think Saul Bellow was such a great writer?
Why had I not yet learnt how to park a car without leaving most of the wheel on the pavement? Why did I constantly put my feet on the pillows? These were the ingredients of the domestic gulag, the daily attempts to tug each other closer to our ideals. And what excuse was there for this? Nothing but the old line that parents and politicians will use before taking out their scalpels: I care about you, therefore I will upset you, I have honoured you with a vision of how you should be, therefore I will hurt you.
Chloe and I would never have been as brutal to our friends as we were to one another.
The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten
But we equated intimacy with a form of ownership and licence. We may have been kind, yet we were no longer polite. When we started arguing one night about the films of Eric Rohmer she hated them, I loved them , we forgot there was a chance Rohmer's films could be both good and bad depending on who was watching them.
She degenerated into calling me 'a stuffy over-intellectual turd', I reciprocated by judging her 'a degenerate product of modern capitalism' proving her accusation in the process. Politics seems an incongruous field to link to love, but can we not read, in the bloodstained histories of the French, Fascist, or Communist revolutions, something of the same coercive structure, the same impatience with diverging views fuelled by passionate ideals?
Amorous politics begins its infamous history with the French Revolution, when it was first proposed with all the choice of a rape that the state would not just govern but also love its citizens, who would respond likewise or face the guillotine. The beginning of revolutions is psychologically strikingly akin to that of certain relationships: But if the beginnings of love and amorous politics are equally rosy, then the ends are often equally bloody.
We're familiar with political love that ends in tyranny, where a ruler's firm conviction that he has the true interests of his nation at heart ends up lending him the confidence to murder without qualms and 'for their own good' all who disagree with him.
Romantic lovers are similarly inclined to vent their frustration on dissenters and heretics. A few days after the shoe incident, I went to the newsagent to pick up a paper and a carton of milk. Mr Paul told me he'd just run out of the semi-skimmed variety, but that if I could wait a moment, he'd get another crate in from the storeroom. Watching him walk out towards the back of the shop, I noticed that Mr Paul was wearing a pair of thick grey socks and brown leather sandals.
They were awe-inspiringly ugly, but curiously enough, wholly inoffensive. Why could I not remain similarly composed in the face of Chloe's shoes? Why could I not enjoy the same cordiality with the woman I loved as with the newsagent who sold me my daily rations?
Why could rulers not act politely towards their citizens, tolerating sandals, dissent, and divergence?
The answer from liberal thinkers is that cordiality can arise only once rulers give up talk of governing for the love of their citizens, and concentrate instead on ensuring sensible, minimal governance. Liberal politics finds its greatest apologist in John Stuart Mill, who in published a classic defence of loveless liberalism, On Liberty, a ringing plea that citizens should be left alone by governments, however well meaning they were, and not be told how to lead their personal lives, what gods to worship or books to read.
Mill argued that though kingdoms and tyrannies felt themselves entitled to hold 'a deep interest in the whole bodily and mental discipline of every one of its citizens', the modern state should as far as possible stand back and let people govern themselves.
Like a harassed partner in a relationship who begs simply to be given space, Mill ventured: The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized society against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.
The wisdom of Mill's thesis is such that one might want to see it applied to relationships as much as to governments. However, on reflection, applied to the former, it seems to lose much of its appeal. It evokes certain marriages, where love has evaporated long ago, where couples sleep in separate bedrooms, exchanging the occasional word when they meet in the kitchen before work, where both partners have long ago given up hope of mutual understanding, settling instead for a tepid friendship based on controlled misunderstanding, politeness while they get through the evening's shepherd's pie, 3 a.
We seem to be thrown back on a choice between love and liberalism. The sandals of the newsagent didn't annoy me because I didn't care for him, I wished to get my paper and milk and leave. I didn't wish to cry on his shoulder or bare my soul, so his footwear remained unobtrusive.
But had I fallen in love with Mr Paul, could I really have continued to face his sandals with equanimity, or would there not have come a point when out of love I would have cleared my throat and suggested an alternative?
If my relationship with Chloe never reached the levels of the Terror, it was perhaps because she and I were able to temper the choice between love and liberalism with an ingredient that too few relationships and even fewer amorous politicians Lenin, Pol Pot, Robespierre have ever possessed, an ingredient that might just were there enough of it to go around save both states and couples from intolerance: It seems significant that revolutionaries share with lovers a tendency towards terrifying earnestness.
It is as hard to imagine cracking a joke with Stalin as with Young Werther. Both of them seem desperately, though differently, intense. With the inability to laugh comes an inability to acknowledge the contradictions inherent in every society and relationship, the multiplicity and clash of desires, the need to accept that one's partner will never learn how to park a car, or wash out a bath or give up a taste for Joni Mitchell - but that one cares for them rather a lot nevertheless.
If Chloe and I overcame certain of our differences, it was because we had the will to make jokes of the impasses we found in each other's characters. I could not stop hating Chloe's shoes, she continued to like them I was sent down to pick the left one up and give it a clean , but we at least found room to turn the incident into a joke. By threatening to 'defenestrate' ourselves whenever arguments became heated, we were always sure to draw a laugh and neutralize a frustration.
My driving techniques could not be improved, but they earned me the name 'Alain Prost', Chloe's attempts at martyrdom I found wearing, but less so when I could respond to them by calling her 'Joan of Arc'. Humour meant there was no need for a direct confrontation, we could glide over an irrirant, winking at it obliquely, making a criticism without needing to spell it out.
Humour lined the walls of irritation between our ideals and the reality: Does beauty give birth to love or does love give birth to beauty? Did I love Chloe because she was beautiful or was she beautiful because I loved her?
Surrounded by an infinite number of people, we may ask staring at our lover while they talk on the phone or lie opposite us in the bath why our desire has chosen to settle on this particular face, this particular mouth or nose or ear, why this curve of the neck or dimple in the cheek has come to answer so precisely to our criterion of perfection?
Every one of our lovers offers different solutions to the problem of beauty, and yet succeeds in redefining our notions of attractiveness in a way that is as original and as idiosyncratic as the landscape of their face.
If Marsilio Ficino —99 defined love as 'the desire for beauty', in what ways did Chloe fulfil this desire? To listen to Chloe, in no way whatever. No amount of reassurance could persuade her that she was anything but loathsome. She insisted on finding her nose too small, her mouth too wide, her chin uninteresting, her ears too round, her eyes not green enough, her hair not wavy enough, her breasts too small, her feet too large, her hands too wide, and her wrists too narrow.
She would gaze longingly at the faces in the pages of Elle and Vogue and declare that the concept of a just God was — in the light of her physical appearance — simply an incoherence. Chloe believed that beauty could be measured according to an objective standard, one she had simply failed to reach.
Without acknowledging it as such, she was resolutely attached to a Platonic concept of beauty, an aesthetic she shared with the world's fashion magazines and which fuelled a daily sense of self-loathing in front of the mirror.
According to Plato and the editor of Vogue, there exists such a thing as an ideal form of beauty, made up of a balanced relation between parts, and which earthly bodies will approximate to a greater or a lesser degree. There is a mathematical basis for beauty, Plato suggested, so that the face on the front cover of a magazine is necessarily rather than coincidentally pleasing.
Whatever mathematical errors there were in her face, Chloe found the rest of her body even more unbalanced.
Whereas I loved to watch soapy water running over her stomach and legs in the shower, whenever she looked at herself in the mirror she would invariably declare that something was 'lopsided' — though quite what I never discovered.
Leon Battista Alberti might have known better, for he believed that any beautiful body had fixed proportions which he spelt out mathematically after dividing the body of a beautiful Italian girl into six hundred units, then working out the distances from section to section. Summing up his results in his book On Sculpture, Alberti defined beauty as 'a Harmony of all the Parts, in whatsoever Subject it appears, fitted together with such proportion and connection, that nothing could be added, diminished or altered, but for the worse'.
But according to Chloe, however, almost anything about her body could have been added, diminished, or altered without spoiling anything that nature had not already devastated. Clearly Plato and Leon Battista Alberti had neglected something in their aesthetic theories, for I found Chloe excessively beautiful. Did I like her green eyes, her dark hair, her full mouth? I hesitate to try and pin down her appeal. Discussions of physical beauty have some of the futility of debates between art historians attempting to justify the relative merits of different artists.
A Van Gogh or a Gauguin? One might try to redescribe the work in language 'the lyrical intelligence of Gauguin's South Sea skies. But what would all this do to explain why one painting grips us by the collar and another leaves us cold? The language of the eye stubbornly resists translation into the language of words.
It was not beauty that I could hope to describe, only my personal response to Chloe's appearance. I could simply point out where my desire had happened to settle, while allowing the possibility that others would locate comparable perfection in quite other beings.
In so doing, I was forced to reject the Platonic idea of an objective criterion of beauty, siding instead with Kant's view, as expressed in his Critique of Judgement, that aesthetic judgements are ones 'whose determining ground can be none other than subjective'. The loving way that I gazed at Chloe functioned like a pair of outward arrows, which give an ordinary line a semblance of length it might not objectively deserve. A definition of beauty that more accurately summed up my feelings for Chloe was delivered by Stendhal.
I took pride in finding Chloe more beautiful than a Platonist would have done. The most interesting faces generally oscillate between charm and crookedness. There is a tyranny about perfection, a certain tedium even, something that asserts itself with all the dogmatism of a scientific formula.
The more tempting kind of beauty has only a few angles from which it may be seen, and then not in all lights and at all times. It flirts dangerously with ugliness, it takes risks with itself, it does not side comfortably with mathematical rules of proportion, it draws its appeal from precisely those details that also lend themselves to ugliness. As Proust once said, classically beautiful women should be left to men without imagination. My imagination enjoyed playing in the space between Chloe's teeth.
Her beauty was fractured enough that it could support creative rearrangements. In its ambiguity, her face could have been compared to Wittgenstein's duck-rabbit, where both a duck and a rabbit seem contained in the same image.
Much depends on the attitude of the viewer: What counts is the predisposition of the viewer. It was of course love that was generously predisposing me. The editor of Vogue might have had difficulty including photos of Chloe in an issue, but this was only a confirmation of the uniqueness that I had managed to find in my girlfriend. I had animated her face with her soul. The danger with the kind of beauty that does not look like a Greek statue is that its precariousness places much emphasis on the viewer.
Once the imagination decides to remove itself from the gap in the teeth, is it not time for a good orthodontist? Once we locate beauty in the eye of the beholder, what will happen when the beholder looks elsewhere? But perhaps that was all part of Chloe's appeal. A subjective theory of beauty makes the observer wonderfully indispensable. In the middle of May, Chloe celebrated her twenty-fourth birthday.
She had for a long time been dropping hints about a red cashmere pullover in the window of a shop in Piccadilly, so the day before the celebration, I bought it on my way back from work, and at home, wrapped it in blue paper with a pink bow. But in the course of preparing a card, I suddenly realized that I had never told Chloe that I loved her. A declaration would perhaps not have been unexpected, yet the fact that it had never been made was significant.
Pullovers may be a sign of love between a man and a woman, but we had yet to translate our feelings into language. It was as though the core of our relationship, configured around the word love, was somehow unmentionable, either too evident or too significant to be uttered.
It was simple to understand why Chloe had never said anything. She was suspicious of words. I remembered her telling me that, when she was twelve, her parents had sent her on a camping holiday. There she had fallen in love with a boy her age, and after much blushing and hesitation, they had ended up taking a walk around a lake. By a shaded bank, the boy had asked her to sit down, and after a moment, had taken her damp hand in his. It was the first time a boy had held her hand. She had been so elated, she had felt free to tell him, with all the earnestness of a twelve-year-old, that he was 'the best thing that had ever happened to her'.
The next day, she discovered that her words had spread all over the camp. A group of girls chanted mockingly 'the best thing that ever happened to me' when she came into the dining hall, her honest declaration replayed in a mockery of her vulnerability.
She had experienced a betrayal at the hands of language, the way intimate words may be converted to a common currency, and had since hidden behind a veil of practicality and irony. It was not that Chloe was unsentimental, she was just too discreet with her emotions to speak about them in the worn, social language of the romantic.
Though her feelings may have been directed towards me, in a curious sense, they were not for me to know. My pen was still hesitating over the card a giraffe was blowing out candles on a heart-shaped cake. Whatever her resistance and my qualms, I felt that the occasion of her birthday called for a linguistic confirmation of the bond between us.
I tried to imagine what she would make of the words I might hand her, I pictured her thinking about them on the way to work or in the bath, pleased but reluctant even to savour her own satisfaction.
Yet the difficulty of a declaration of love opens up quasi-philosophical concerns about language. If I told Chloe that I had a stomach ache or a garden full of daffodils, I could count on her to understand. Naturally, my image of a be-daffodiled garden might slightly differ from hers, but there would be reasonable parity between the two images.
Words would operate as reliable messengers of meaning. But the card I was now trying to write had no such guarantees attached to it.
The words were the most ambiguous in the language, because the things they referred to so sorely lacked stable meaning. Certainly travellers had returned from the heart and tried to represent what they had seen, but love was in the end like a species of rare coloured butterfly, often sighted, but never conclusively identified. The thought was a lonely one: Chloe and I could both speak of being in love, and yet this love might mean significantly different things within each of us.
We had often read the same books at night in the same bed, and later realized that they had touched us in different places: Might the same divergence not occur over a single love-line?
I felt like a dandelion releasing hundreds of spores into the air - and not knowing if any of them would get through. The whole language of love had been corrupted by overuse. When I listened to the radio in the car, my love fed effortlessly off the love songs that happened to be playing, for example, off the passion of a black American female singer, whose accent I took on I was on an empty motorway while Chloe became the lady's 'baby'.
Wouldn't it be nice To hold you in my arms And love you, baby? To hold you in my arms Ob yeah and I say, I do, 1 say I love you baby? How much of what I thought I felt for Chloe had been influenced by songs like these? Was my sense of being in love not just the result of living in a particular cultural epoch? Was it not society, rather than any authentic urge, that was motivating me to pride myself on romantic love?
In previous cultures and ages, would I not have been taught to ignore my feelings for Chloe in the way I was now taught to ignore more or less the impulse to wear stockings or to respond to insult with a challenge to a duel?
I was due to take Chloe to a Chinese restaurant in Camden, but declarations of love might have seemed more appropriate elsewhere given the scant regard traditionally given to love in Chinese culture.
According to the psychological anthropologist L. Hsu, whereas Western cultures are 'individual-centred' and place great emphasis on emotions, in contrast, Chinese culture is 'situation-centred' and concentrates on groups rather than couples and their love though the manager of the Lao Tzu was nevertheless delighted to take my booking.
Love is never a given, it is constructed and defined by different societies. In at least one society, the Manu of New Guinea, there is not even a word for love. In other cultures, love exists, but is given distinctive forms. Ancient Egyptian love poetry had no interest in the emotions of shame, guilt, or ambivalence. The Greeks thought nothing of homosexuality, Christianity proscribed the body, the Troubadours equated love with unrequited passion, the Romantics made love into a religion, and the perhaps not-very-happily married S.
Greenfield, in an article in the Sociological Quarterly which I had picked up at the dentist I don't know what it was doing there either , wrote that love is today kept alive by modern capitalism only in order to: The sickness, nausea, and longing that I had at times felt at the thought of Chloe might in some societies have been identified as signs of a religious experience. When St Teresa of Avila , founder of the Discalced Carmelite Order, had a visit from an angel, she described an encounter which it would take a particularly open contemporary mind not to identify with an orgasm: The angel was very beautiful, his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angels who seem to be all afire In his hands I saw a golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire.
With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one's soul be content with anything less than God. In the end, I decided that a card with a giraffe might not be the best place to articulate my feelings — and that I should wait till dinner.
At around eight, I drove to Chloe's apartment to pick her up and give her the present. She was delighted to find that I had heard her hints about the Piccadilly window, the only regret tactfully delivered a few days later was that it had been the blue and not the red pullover she'd really been pointing to though receipts gave us a second chance, after I had tried to but been desisted from throwing myself out of the window.
The restaurant could not have been more romantic. All around us in the Lao Tzu, couples much like ourselves though our subjective sense of uniqueness did not allow us to think so were holding hands, drinking wine, and fumbling with chopsticks a neighbour's cashew nut came at one point to rest on Chloe's lap.
I've been so depressed all day,' said Chloe. But actually, I think this one's turning out to be not so bad in the end. In fact, it's pretty all right, thanks to a little help from my friend.
It was awful, I kept having to go to the bathroom to cry, I was so upset that it was my birthday and the only person who'd invited me out was my aunt with this irritating stutter who couldn't stop telling me she didn't understand how a nice girl like me didn't have a man in her life. So it's probably no bad thing I ran into you She really was adorable thought the lover, a most unreliable witness in such matters.
But how could I tell her so in a way that would suggest the distinctive nature of my attraction? Words like love or devotion or infatuation were exhausted by the weight of successive love stories, by the layers imposed on them through the uses of others.
At the moment when I most wanted language to be original, personal, and completely private, I came up against the irrevocably public nature of emotional communication.
The restaurant was of no help, for its romantic setting made love too conspicuous, hence insincere. There was a recording of Chopin's Nocturnes over the loudspeakers and a heart-shaped candle on the table. We overheard a man at the next table perhaps a Darwinist joking it should have been a penis. There seemed to be no way to transport love in the word L-O-V-E without at the same time throwing the most banal associations into the basket. The word was too rich in foreign history: Was it not my duty to be the author of my own feelings?
Would I not have to fashion a declaration with a uniqueness to match Chloe's? I felt disconcertingly aware of the mundanity of our situation: No, my meaning could never make the journey in L-O-V-E. It would have to seek alternative transportation. Then I noticed a small plate of complimentary marsh-mallows near Chloe's elbow and it suddenly seemed clear that I didn't love Chloe so much as marshmallow her.
What it was about a marshmallow that should suddenly have accorded so perfectly with my feelings towards her I will never know, but the word seemed to capture the essence of my amorous state with an accuracy that the word love, weary with overuse, simply could not aspire to. Even more inexplicably, when I took Chloe's hand and told her that I had something very important to tell her, that I marshmallowed her, she seemed to understand perfectly, answering it was the sweetest thing anyone had ever told her.
From then on, love was, for Chloe and me at least, no longer simply love, it was a sugary, puffy object a few millimetres in diameter that melts deliciously in the mouth. Summer flew in with the first week of June, making a Mediterranean city of London, drawing people from their homes and offices into the parks and squares.
The heat coincided with the arrival of a new colleague at work, an American architect, who had been hired to spend six months working with us on an office complex near Waterloo.
He was immensely tall, with the perpetual tan, intrepid smile, and rugged face of an explorer but the hands of a pianist. Since finishing his studies at Berkeley, he had developed a successful career on the West Coast, where he was considered one of the most thoughtful practitioners of his generation.
The Architects' Journal had described him, with little concern for biological reality, as 'the illegitimate love-child of Mies van der Rohe and Geoffrey Bawa' and even the normally reserved Architectural Review had commended him on his use of concrete.
I'm involved in something serious now.
Tell me more. She's intelligent, beautiful, very funny. We weren't ready to ride the big one together, so. But tell me more about this Chloe, what is it you see in her? What did I see in her? The question came back to me later that evening in the middle of Safeway, watching Chloe at the till, enraptured by the way she went about packing the groceries into a plastic bag. The charm I detected in these trivial gestures revealed a readiness to accept almost anything as incontestable proof that she was perfect.
Almost everything. For a moment, I fantasized I might transform myself into a carton of yogurt so as to undergo the same process of being gently and thoughtfully accommodated by her into a shopping bag between a tin of tuna and a bottle of olive oil. It was only the incongruously unsentimental atmosphere of the supermarket 'Liver Promotion Week' that alerted me to how far I might have been sliding into romantic pathology. On the way back to the car, I complimented Chloe on the adorable way she had gone about the business of doing the grocery shopping.
It is easy enough to find charm in a pair of eyes or the contours of a well-shaped mouth. How much harder to detect it in the movements of a woman's hand across a supermarket checkout.
Chloe's gestures were like the tips of an iceberg, an indication of what lay submerged. Did it not require a lover to discern their true value, a value that would naturally seem meaningless to someone less curious, less in love?
Yet I remained pensive on the drive home through the evening rush hour. My love began to question itself. What did it mean if things I considered charming about Chloe, she considered incidental or irrelevant to her true self? Was I reading things into Chloe that simply did not belong to her? I looked at the slope of her shoulders and the way that a strand of her hair was trapped in the car headrest.
She turned towards me and smiled, so for an instant I saw the gap in between her two front teeth. How much of my sensitive, soulful lover lay in my fellow passenger? Hence the boredom of lovers for those standing on the sidelines. What do they see in the beloved save simply another human being?
I had often tried to share my enthusiasm for Chloe with friends, with whom in the past I had found much common ground over films, books, and politics, but who now looked at me with the secular puzzlement of atheists faced with messianic fervour.
After the tenth time of telling friends these stories of Chloe at the dry cleaner or Chloe and me at the cinema, or Chloe and me downloading a takeaway, these stories with no plot and less action, just the central character standing in the centre of an almost motionless tale, I was forced to acknowledge that love was a lonely pursuit.
There was of course nothing inherently lovable about Chloe's way of packing the groceries, love was merely something I had decided to ascribe to her gesture, a gesture that might have been interpreted very differently by others in line with us at Safeway. A person is never good or bad per se, which means that loving or hating them necessarily has at its basis a subjective, and perhaps illusionistic, element.
I was reminded of the way that Will's question had made the distinction between qualities that belonged to a person and those ascribed to them by their lover. He had carefully asked me not who Chloe was, but more accurately, what I saw in her. Shortly after her older brother died, Chloe who had just celebrated her eighth birthday went through a deeply philosophical stage.
Chloe would put her hand over her eyes and tell the family her brother was still alive because she could see him in her mind just as well as she could see them. Why did they tell her he was dead if she could see him in her own mind?
For example, the scenarios which addressed our stewardship of the environment and the ethical treatment of animals captured and held my attention. The book's format favors concrete, crisply formulated, scenarios - the kind that you find yourself thinking about days later. Many don't have an obvious 'right' answer, in these cases Biaggini is smart enough not to try to provide one - he just wants to get you thinking about this stuff. At his most effective, he's almost demonically successful - for the last two days I've been trying unsuccessfully to come up with a convincing argument to dispel the notion that I'm suspended in a pod of amniotic fluid with a computer feeding me all the necessary stimuli needed to make me think my virtual reality is 'actual' reality.
There are limits, however. The crockpot and the Foreman grill have no role in their future. I have no illusions about the kitties' behavior should I drop dead and leave them unfended for. The transition from living food provider to dead food source would, I imagine, be rapid.
But I digress. The bottom line is that I enjoyed this book quite a bit more than I had expected to -- the author's particular gimmick actually worked out pretty well.What a wonderfully thought-provoking book about some of the most interesting philosophical questions posed in our modern world!
Chloe had been my only thought for too long, but the one thought that at this moment I could not share with her. The scene came together in one, horrible rush. It's a nice addition to any library. Worry for her quickly wiped out any concern for himself.
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