Sunday, 28 August 2011

Great War, Great Pessimism.

Welcome to another post on philosophical audio collections and lectures.  Today we hit on a lecture that talks about one of the biggest changes in European thought, culture and civilisation.  The lecture is called "The Great War and Cultural Pessimism" from the course "European Thought and Culture in the 20th Century", which is taught by Professor Lloyd Kramer.

Professor Lloyd Kramer
Every now and then when I am not looking into philosophy courses, I probably end up listening to history lectures.  The thing is that sometimes philosophical ideas drive the changes throughout history, but every so often it is the great events of the age that influence philosophical ideas.  The Great War, otherwise known as World War I certainly influenced many ideas on the western stage. 

If you manage to get hold of this course, pay some attention to this lecture, especially if you are interested in how Europeans saw themselves after the disastrous Great War.  Lloyd Kramers lecturing style keeps the listener interested from start to go, especially since lectures on the Great War can be quite difficult since many historians still research on what was to blame in leading up to the clash of European nations and what led to the decline in European power and influence.

Within this lecture Lloyd covers what the Great War was about.  We get to listen to why Britain, France and Russia (The Triple Entente) went to war again Germany, Austria and the Ottoman Empire (Triple Alliance).  There are many questions that one needs to consider before listening to the lecture.  Why did the war last so long? What were the freedoms of those who continued to sign up to the front? Even though so many died, why did many continue to go to the front? What ideas came out of the disaster of the Great War?

Professor Lloyd then moves on to the ideas of two famous people who experienced the Great War. The first is on Robert Graves who wrote the autobiography called "Good-Bye to All That", which was released around 1929.  Robert Graves book summarised what many people were thinking about the rapid changes after the great war.  The good times for the previous generation were gone and now the age of pessimism begins.  Robert Graves served as a British army officer during the battle of Loos. His book gives account of the horrors and realities of the Great War, which so many governments at the time were trying to hide within the cloak of nationalism.

Robert Graves
The next person Professor Lloyd focuses on is Oswald Spengler whose book called "The Decline of the West", which was very popular after the war.  Many Europeans were soul searching wondering if the ideals of Europe were the best to follow if it led to the disasters of the Great War. Within this book, we have Oswald explain that the west is currently in decline as with many other eras of the west.  His book mentions different cultures from the Babylonian, Chinese and 6 other cultures.  He compares them to the western view of culture and states there are patterns where decline was inevitable for the west.  Each culture goes through a season of changes from spring to winter, where winter would be the decline and fall.  

Oswald Spengler
At the end of the lecture we get to look into who benefited from the war and who suffered.  Obviously those who lost their lives from the war gained nothing and they needed a voice.  Women's rights gained some important changes as governments began to recognise the value, commitment and rights of women.  We then look at the break up of 3 empires after the war and touch on those who felt alienated from society after the war.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Social Contract

Welcome to another post on philosophy-101 blog.  Today we have an audio introduction to The worlds 100 greatest books.  This audio package delivers an introduction to why these books are the greatest, the period the books were set in, the brief introductions about the author of the book and then the audio goes into some detail about the story.  Some books in this package are not even novels; some of the books are non-fiction.  Just like the one I hope to describe here in this blog.

There are such a vast array of books within the audio collection, that the package will not give you the whole story of each book word to word.  That would take far too long, but you will get some idea about why such the books are so famous. 

The audio package is released by intelliquest who also did the audio collection called "The world's 100 greatest people".  The reason they released such a collection on books, is because life is so short and some books can take so long to read.  One of the books called “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy would take months to read, maybe years, however it is a very easy book to read, but here the audio collection will give you a much shorter the breakdown, summary and idea behind the book along with some symbolism.   Can you imagine trying to read and understand “Ulysses” by James Joyce? Unfortunately this collection does not cover James Joyces materials, but it does cover Shakespeare, Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert, Goethe and many more.

I recommend if you are really interested in the study of literature, please visit shmoop gamma.  With that site you get an even more detailed analysis, summary and plenty of famous quotes.  Shmoop  offers breakdowns on tougher books including “Altas Shrugged” by Ayn rand, “Ulysses”  by James Joyce and so much more literature.  Perhaps you can use the Shmoop in conjunction with the audio collection.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Well lets delve into the book I hope to discuss on the blog today.  The book is indeed quite famous or infamous depending who you are talking to.  The book is called “The Social Contract" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  This book is number 73 within the audio package and each section is usually 30 to 45 minutes.   Rousseau did not have an easy upbringing, his mother died after his birth and his father left him when he was aged 10.

When Rousseau was in his teens, he left for Paris because he became bored and felt trapped in his home town.  He was drawn to the bright lights of the city, working in many fields.  He found his calling in literature and philosophy, although Rousseau was skilled in many fields.  Rousseau won a competition which raised the question if the arts and sciences did society a disservice.  Rousseau submitted a paper called "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences", which argued why the arts and sciences were dangerous to society.

Rousseau took this step further by publishing his most famous book called "The social contract", which this audio collection describes in some detail.

Interestingly Rousseau is nearly the opposite of what Thomas Hobbes (another philosophy from England) explained about the state of man's nature in society.  In Hobbe's book called "leviathan".  Thomas felt that man without an established society was weak, living in fear, violent and dangerous.  Hobbes argued for a social contract where all would give up their power to the absolute ruler and that contract would hopefully bind all men to live in safety.

Thomas hobbes
Rousseau disagreed and felt that complex societies actually made men more brutal, dangerous, and living in fear and stress.  Rousseau felt that man who lived without the need society or possessions did better off, because they did not fear who would take things away from them.  All man would need was a place to sleep, eat and not be corrupted by power or knowledge.  Rousseau felt such men were "Noble savages". 

Rousseau's ideas caused friction with those who were in power at the time and Rousseau was hounded by the government and monarchy.  Rousseau was even jailed when he criticised those in power. The audio book discusses Rousseau's life, the idea behind his book and its influences.

You will not be disappointed with this collection.  That is unless you really want to read all the books on the list and there is no reason why, but to get through 100 books can take nearly a life time, and some books are not always a fun read.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Art defining man's nature and itself

Back for a new month and I have been so busy listening to audio courses over the internet, I have forgotten all about the blog.  Well I have decided to add another post today on a lovely lecture, which I have listened to for the 10th time.  This particular lecture is "lecture 5 art and the Post-War "Crisis of Meaning"".  The lecture is from the course called "Interpreting the 20th Century: The Struggle over Democracy".

Professor Pamela Radcliff
The course has been around for some time, but it’s still available off The Teaching company’s website.  It is taught by Professor Pamela Radcliff.  So then, why do I listen to this particular lecture so many times? even though there are 48 lectures in the course.  Do not get me wrong, I do listen to some of the other lectures, but this one grabs my attention for a number of reasons.  Basically I am interested how high art and culture affects and inspires society. The other reasons are that this lecture is highly informative on some of the major art movements after the turn of the war.  Within this lecture it discusses Dadaism, Surrealism and futurism art movements.

To be honest, art analysis can be difficult to understand, so the next reason why I replay this lecture is that some notes are not so easy to take in, but it’s worth the time because understanding art makes you understand the period or time the art was set.  This then lends to your cultural understanding of artist movements.

So then? What are these art movements and why were they formed?  You might have noticed that I mentioned these art movements sprung up after the Great War or World War I.  If there was high culture influencing nationalism, imperialism and man's reason to fight, then after a devastating war, there must be a counter culture.  These were some of the movements. 

The first being Dada or Dadaism.  Its main point was to state that everything means nothing, I mean everything is nonsense.  Do not try to even bother to understand or interpret dada because you will be sucked into meaningless confusion.  Dada was a criticism of the rationality that drove the great nations to war. It was an attack on colonisation and superiority over others.  Aimed at the masses, Dada hoped to push its message across that everything is meaningless.

Dadaist Art
Next we move on to another big art movement called Surrealism, which actually came out of a mix of Dadaism.  Surrealism relied heavily on producing art which seems to come out of someone’s dreams.  It looks so real, but then the art is odd, what the art defines cannot possibly exist and yet it is right before us in its representation.  No more do we have art representing the landscape, the trees or portraits, no much pictures representing religion.  We now have art representing the impossible, the imaginative the sublime.  Surrealism lent itself not only to art, but also the philosophical theories, to literature and films. If you want to look into surrealist art then Salvador Dali is a good start, but there are many others.

Gala and the Tigers, Surrealist art
Next we move onto the last of the major art movements after the Great War and this would be the futurist movement or futurism.  The main point of this movement was the look towards the future.  Futurists are sick and tired of anything old. The old art is slow, distant and boring.  Now we get art that emphasis speed, technology and most of all the future.  Pamela gives a great example of how futurists see themselves, she gives an example of a person getting into a car and driving off, but futurists see themselves moulding with the car. The see the car as something completely different, they see movement as a potential for violence. 

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
Every so often I tend to visit the Tate modern museum and up on the top floor you will see pop art and the famous “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" by Umberto Boccioni.  Notice that even though the art is still, it defines speed and movement. You can just imaging the human moving at great speed.

One thing to notice about these movements is that they lend themselves to the Postmodern tradition.  It can be very hard to work out what the actual paintings, sculptures or designs mean.  The representation is all over the place and that’s the way these artists like it. This is one defining feature of Postmodernism, which is a critic of modernism. Or a critic of what came before it.

If you ever get hold of this course, you will enjoy this lecture.  Pamela's lecture style isn’t too exciting, but she makes up for it in sheer detail and information, which is why I come back again and again.